Resources Research

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Archive for March 2013

A Bombay of parti-coloured turbans red and yellow

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The Bombay I saw, as a boy, a shadow of, for there was still a dusty if tattered drapery of the great city’s history to be found, if one peered closely enough and had an ear for lore.

This lambent passage is from the chapter on Bombay in ‘Cities of India’, by G W Forrest (ex-Director of Records, Government of India), Westminster, Archibald Constable and Co Ltd, 2 Whitehall Gardens, 1903.

Bombay_native_bazaar

quotes-greenBut we must not loiter long at Byculla, for we have to dine in the Fort. We leave London club life, and plunge into the native city, a paradise of luxury and splendour, stench and squalor. The richness and variety of the out-lines of the narrow and curving, but not crooked streets, take hold of the imagination. The many-tinted houses, the colours white, yellow, and red, the luxurious or wild carving lavished on the pillars of wood, the balconies, rosettes of the windows, and the architraves of the roofs, give an air of refinement, of subtle grace which defies description or criticism. The Hindu temple with its gaudy-coloured mythological subjects, and the Mussulmans’ simple white mosque, are vividly contrasted. It is a world of wonder.

Here all races have met: Persians in huge shaggy hats, and British sailors in white; the strong, lithe, coal-black Afreedee seaman, tall martial Rajpoots, peaceful Parsees in cherry-coloured silk trousers, Chinamen with the traditional pig-tail, swaggering Mussulmans in turbans of green, sleek Marwarees with high-fitting parti-coloured turbans of red and yellow. This tide of human life rolls down the centre of the street, unruffled by the vehicles from all quarters of the earth ploughing their way through it. There is the tramcar from New York drawn by walers from Australia, with pith helmets to protect them from the rays of the sun; the phaeton from Long Acre drawn by high-stepping Arabs; the rude vehicle of the land, innocent of springs, with a single square seat, drawn by handsome sleek bullocks. With much trouble and much shouting the driver works his way through the enchanted street, and we see the immortal eunuch, the porter, and the veiled lady standing near a shop filled with gold and silver stuff. Each trade has its own locale.

Cities_of_India_1903There are rows of bakers’ shops, with large ovens, and vast round loaves of unleavened bread. There are long lines of confectioners’, in which the sweetmeats are piled up in all sorts of fantastic shapes, and behind his pile sits the fat, greasy, half-naked confectioner. Then come the shops of the bunias, which are crowded with baskets filled with pulse and grain; and the Oriental grocer kindly chatters to three or four women as he weighs their flour in a pair of primitive scales, and after much bargaining they purchase for a farthing a lump of salt and two green chillies, which are their sole luxuries in life. Long and sharp is the ting-ting that proceeds from the shops where Javan, Tubal, and Meshech trade “their vessels of brass in thy market.” They are filled from floor to roof with large pots and small pots; for as the Hindu eats and drinks only from vessels made of brass, the brazier’s art is an important one in the land.

There are the shops of the money-changers, who are seated square-legged on their carpet, with heaps of rupees and shells before them. In a small hovel is a lean old man who, with a blowpipe and small hammer and a pair of pincers, is manufacturing “the chains and the bracelets, the ear-rings, the rings and the nose jewels.” Sable eve spreads swiftly, and the great brass lamps hanging from the roof are lighted, and the earthenware cressets before the dark shrines are illuminated.

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Written by makanaka

March 31, 2013 at 12:03

Durban drama? Unlikely, but what do the Brics really want?

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brics_durban_siteThe excellent and stoutly independent Pambazuka news has issued a package of thought-provoking material in advance of the annual meeting that brings together the heads of government of Brazil, China, India, Russia and South Africa. These five countries have been, without permission from their citizens and much to the annoyance of said citizens, been insensitively condensed into a ludicrous acronym that will, I am sure, given the momentum of stupidity, make it into the Oxford English Dictionary one day.

And so it has come to pass that South Africa is this year the host of the fifth BRICS Summit, on 26 and 27 March 2013, in Durban (which has a lovely cricketing ground, sadly lost upon the B, R and C members of the grouping). As a way to spend lots of money in an embarrassingly short time, summits such as these are hard to beat, and it is expected that we are fed some balderdash as to why the jamboree has been inflicted upon the poor citizens of Durban.

Well, here we are, now what's for lunch? A BRICS "Think Tank meeting" (said the offical caption) held at the University of Durban in March 2013. Photo: BRICS flickr photostream

Well, here we are, now what’s for lunch? A BRICS “Think Tank meeting” (said the official caption) held at the University of Durban in March 2013. Photo: BRICS flickr photostream

There are two views. Here is one, the official line from the BRICS secretariat:

“These summits are convened to seek common ground on areas of importance for these major economies. Talks represent spheres of political and entrepreneurial coordination, in which member countries have identified several business opportunities, economic complementarities and areas of cooperation.”

And here is the other, from the sharp-eyed and fearsomely astute bunch who write for Pambazuka.

In ‘Are BRICS ‘sub-imperialists’?‘ the argument is that BRICS offer some of the most extreme sites of new sub-imperialism in the world today. They lubricate world neoliberalism, hasten world eco-destruction and serve as coordinators of hinterland looting. The BRICS hegemonic project should be resisted. (By Patrick Bond.)

BRICS: a spectre of alliance‘ has explored the weaknesses and obstacles confronting the BRICS. However, the elites of the BRICS exist comfortably within the prevailing global world capitalist system and remain more of a spectre rather than a real alliance. (By Anna Ochkina.)

We are told, in ‘Will SA’s new pals be so different from the west?‘, that the debate on BRICS is polarised between pro and anti-BRICS elements represented in the South African government and left-leaning civil society activists and academics. It is uncertain South Africa’s new partners in BRIC will treat the country differently. (By Peter Fabricius.)

Although at this early stage the BRICS partnership raises more questions than answers, engaged citizens should help shape its agenda, is the idea posited in ‘BRICS as potential radical shift or just mere relocation of power?‘. The bloc may well turn out to be one of the single biggest developments of our era. (By Fatima Shabodien.)

There’s more on the Durban curiousity from Pambazuka, and a close reading I am sure will discuss a good deal about the race for resources in Africa.

Written by makanaka

March 25, 2013 at 20:30

Big dams, scarce water, thirsty India, uncertain monsoon

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India's largest major reservoirs by volume. Indira Sagar (MP, 9.745 bcm), Srisailam (AP, 8.288 bcm), Nagarjuna Sagar (AP, 6.841 bcm), Gandhi Sagar (MP, 6.827 bcm), Ukai (GUJ, 6.615 bcm) and Bhakra (HP, 6.229 bcm).

India’s largest major reservoirs by volume. (from top left to bottom right)) Indira Sagar (MP, 9.745 bcm), Srisailam (AP, 8.288 bcm), Nagarjuna Sagar (AP, 6.841 bcm), Gandhi Sagar (MP, 6.827 bcm), Ukai (GUJ, 6.615 bcm) and Bhakra (HP, 6.229 bcm).

Why did India’s Ministry of Water Resources not start rationing water use at the beginning of 2013? Data on the water levels of the 84 major reservoirs in the country (kept by the Central Water Commission) show an alarming rate of withdrawal over the period January to March 2013.

Over seven weeks, these reservoirs disgorged 20.525 billion cubic metres (BCM) of water – for industrial, commercial, residential and irrigation purposes. By 14 March 2013, the combined water stock in these 84 major reservoirs was 57.355 BCM – on 24 January 2013 that total had been 77.869 BCM. At this rate of water use, by 09 May 2013 – seven weeks hence – there will be a perilous 36.8 BCM in the major reservoirs, and with the possible first onset of the 2013 south-west monsoon still a month away.

The major reservoirs that have disgorged the most water during this period are: Srisailam (Andhra Pradesh) 2.353 bcm; Hirakud (Orissa) 1.808 bcm; Indira Sagar (Madhya Pradesh) 1.652 bcm; Nagarjuna Sagar (Andhra Pradesh) 1.082 bcm; Ukai (Gujarat) 0.976 bcm; Pong (Himachal Pradesh) 0.913 bcm; Gandhi Sagar (Madhya Pradesh) 0.899 bcm; Rihand (Uttar Pradesh) 0.734 bcm; Bhakra (Himachal Pradesh) 0.668 bcm and Koyna (Maharashtra) 0.598 bcm.

A food policy pedlar’s annual derby

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IFPRI_GFPR_2012Evidence, investment, research, commitments and growth. You will find these reprised in the second Global Food Policy Report by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI, which, as I must never tire of mentioning, is the propaganda department of the CGIAR, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, which, ditto, is the very elaborate scientific cover for control over the cultivation and food choices made especially by the populations of the South). And now, with the dramatis personae properly introduced, let me quickly review the plot.

The GFPR (to give this slick production an aptly ugly acronym) for 2012 follows the first such report and furthers its  claim to provide “an in-depth look at major food policy developments and events”. It comes equipped with tables, charts, cases, apparently authoritative commentary (many from outside IFPRI), and is attended by the usual complement of models and scenarios (can’t peruse a report nowadays without being assaulted by these).

In an early chapter, the GFPR 2012 has said:
“Evidence points to a number of steps that would advance food and nutrition security. Investments designed to raise agricultural productivity — especially investments in research and innovation — would address one important factor in food security.”
“Research is also needed to investigate the emerging nexus among agriculture, nutrition, and health on the one hand, and food, water, and energy on the other.”
“In addition, by optimizing the use of resources, innovation can contribute to the push for a sustainable ‘green economy’. Boosting agricultural growth and turning farming into a modern and forward-looking occupation can help give a future to large young rural populations in developing countries.”

The G20 in session

The G20 in session

Consider them one by one. Whose evidence? That of the IFPRI, the CGIAR and its many like-minded partners the world over (they tend to have the same group of funding donors, this institutional ecosystem). A round-up of food policy by any outfit would have ordinarily included at least some evidence from the thousands of studies and surveys, large and small, humble and local, that discuss policy pertaining to food and cultivation. But, you see, that is not the CGIAR method. What we have then is the IFPRI view which, shorn of its crop science fig leaf, is similar to that of the Asian Development Bank’s view, the World Bank’s view, the International Finance Corporation’s view or the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development’s view (raise your fist in solidarity with the working class of Cyprus for a moment). And that is why the GFPR 2012 ties ‘investment’ to ‘evidence’, and hence ‘research’ to ‘food security’.

What research? Well, into “the emerging nexus among agriculture, nutrition, and health” naturally. This extends the CGIAR campaign that binds together cultivation choices for food staples, the bio-technology mittelstand which is working hard to convince governments about the magic bullet of biofortification (especially where cash transfers and food coupon schemes are already running), and the global pharmaceutical industry. It is really quite the nexus. As to food, water and energy, that is hardly an original CGIAR discovery is it, the balance having being well known since cultivation began (such as in the fertile crescent of the Tigris and Euphrates, about seven millennia ago, now trampled into sterility by ten years of an invasion, or as was well recognised by the peons of central America, an equal span of time ago, and whose small fields are being reconquered by the GM cowboy duo of Bill Gates and Carlos Slim).

What kind of ‘green economy’? Among the many shortcomings of IFPRI (in common with the other CGIAR components) is its studied refusal to incorporate evidence from a great mass of fieldwork that supports a different view. ‘Growth’, ‘modern’ and ‘forward looking’ are the tropes more suited to a public relations handout than an annual review of policy concerning agriculture and therefore also concerning the livelihoods and cultural choices made by millions of households. IFPRI’s slapdash use of ‘green economy’ reflects also its use by those in the circuit of the G20 and by the Davos mafia – they are the hegemons of politics and industry who force through decisions (they use sham consensus and gunpoint agreement) that have scant regard for climate change, biodiversity loss or dwindling resources. Hence the IFPRI language of “optimizing the use of resources”. The idea of unfettered growth as the way to end poverty and escape economic and financial crisis remains largely undisputed within the CGIAR and its sponsors and currently reflects the concept as found in ‘green economy’.

Food (trade and commodity) security.

Food (trade and commodity) security.

[The GFPR 2012 report and associated materials can be found here. There is an overview provided here. There are press releases: in Englishen Français and in Chinese.]

“Building poor people’s resilience to shocks and stressors would help ensure food security in a changing world”, the IFPRI GFPR 2012 has helpfully offered, and added, “In any case, poor and hungry people must be at the center of the post-2015 development agenda”. Ah yes, of course they must be, in word and never mind deed. “International dialogues, such as the World Economic Forum, the G8, and the G20, must be used as platforms to develop this concept, propose policy options, and formulate concrete commitments and actions to reduce poor people’s vulnerability to food and nutrition insecurity and enhance their capacity for long-term growth”.

To call the World Economic Forum, the G20 and the G8 ‘platforms’ and ‘dialogues’ is laughable, for there are no Southern farmers’ associations present, nor independent trade unions, nor members of civil society and community-based organisations that actually pursue, rupee by scarce rupee, the agro-ecological restoration of rural habitats in the face of migration, rural to urban, that occurs through dispossession, nor are there any of the myriad representatives of socialist and humanist groups whose small work has a restorative power greater than that of the CGIAR and its sponsors.

Never part of the CGIAR-IFPRI sonata that is played at these ‘dialogues’, there is ample evidence (since that is the theme) of locally articulated and politically wrested food sovereignty that can be held up as examples with which to reduce poor people’s vulnerability. In the past ten years, countries particularly in South America (we salute you, Hugo Chavez) have incorporated food sovereignty into their constitutions and national legislations.

In 1999 Venezuela approved by referendum the Bolivarian Constitution of Venezuela whose Articles 305, 306 and 307 concern the food sovereignty framework. In 2001 Venezuela’s Law of the Land concerns agrarian reform. In 2004 Senegal’s National Assembly included food sovereignty principles into law. In 2006 Mali’s National Assembly approved the Law on Agricultural Orientation which is the basis for implementation of food sovereignty in Mali. In 2007 Nepal approved the interim constitution which recognised food sovereignty as a right of the Nepalese people. In 2008 Venezuela enacted legislation to further support food sovereignty: the Law of Food Security and Food Sovereignty; the Law for Integrated Agricultural Health; the Law for the Development of the Popular Economy; the Law for the Promotion and Development of Small and Medium Industry and Units of Social Production. In 2008 Ecuador approved a new constitution recognising food sovereignty. In 2009 Bolivia’s constitution recognised the rights of indigenous peoples as well as rights to food sovereignty. In 2009 Ecuador’s Food Sovereignty Regime approved the Organic Law on Food Sovereignty. In 2009 Nicaragua’s National Assembly adopted Law 693 on Food and Nutrition Security and Sovereignty.

This is what true resilience looks and sounds like. For those unfortunate populations that continue to struggle under a food price inflation whose steady rise is aided and abetted by the CGIAR and its sponsors, the alternatives become clearer with every half percent rise in the price of a staple cereal, and with the loss of yet another agro-ecological farming niche to the world’s land grabbers.

A decade after ‘shock and awe’

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iraq_10th_anniv_2

Ten years since the fabrications that led to the invasion of Iraq, burning skies over Baghdad, the murder of Fallujah, the barbarism of Abu Ghraib. The ‘withdrawal’ of American troops from Iraq and Afghanistan signal not (as US president Obama has cynically claimed) the “tide of war receding,” but the re-deployment of military and resources for even greater interventions elsewhere. War continues in Afghanistan, is running ruinously in North Africa and in the Sahara, in Syria, and is threatening Iran.

Rain, districts and agriculture in India, a first calculus

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Major rainfed districts of India and their main crops (Kerala, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand are mainly horticulture-based). Map: NRAA

Major rainfed districts of India and their main crops (Kerala, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand are mainly horticulture-based). Map: NRAA

Big dams and canals, ‘command areas’ and the high-yield crops they fostered have occupied the well-fortified middle ground of agriculture in India throughout the history of the five year plans. In the shadow of this view lies rainfed farming – no dams, canals, brobdingnagian irrigation schemes, suspicious water authorities and over-zealous agri-commodity boards to be seen here.

Look at the map. Rainfed areas occupy some 200 million hectares (that is, over two-fifths of India’s total geographical area) and agriculture that depends on the south-west monsoon (and winter rains) is to be found in about 56% of the total cropped area. The National Rainfed Area Authority (NRAA) of India has estimated that 77% of pulses, 66% of oilseeds and 45% of cereals are grown under rainfed conditions.

In which ways can these districts be better understood? The Ministry of Agriculture is (and has been) remarkably unconcerned about relating agriculture to socio-cultural factors in India’s districts, whether they are rainfed or happily commanded by a big dam. The national agricultural research system, staffed from top to bottom by careerists more interested in a foreign research fellowship (however pointless, but preferably at an American agricultural university), has ignored every consideration other than crop science. The factors that affect the inhabitants – and therefore the cultivators – of a rainfed district have scarcely been examined.

Now, a beginning has been made by the NRAA and two partners, and it is a good one, even if I say so myself. The state (and union territories, let’s not forget those usually post-colonial pockets, their renown coming from some anachronistic curiousity) has been and remains the default administrative unit for measuring progress or deprivation, when such measurement is done by the central government. That Andhra Pradesh with 23 districts and a population of 84 million should be considered a state in the same manner as Manipur, with nine districts and a population 2.7 million is a typological mismatch that has rarely bothered our planners, else they would have long ago abandoned the ‘state’ as the object to be measured.

What the districts look like in the RAPI list

What the districts look like in the RAPI list

It needn’t have been so rickety, this basis for understanding lesser administrative units. For a spell of some six or seven years, until about 2004-05, the Planning Commission had calculated district domestic products. It was an extremely limited data set and the methods used are not clear, but despite its faults, the series provided a glimpse of economic activity at the level of the district, and was therefore more readily understandable by those working in talukas or tehsils – the administrative remove was no more than a level. In around 2007-08, the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (Nabard) released a district-denominated index to aid planning for rural credit. There was a pilot data set provided for Maharashtra, and I always wondered why Nabard, with all its experience and reach and numerous partners, had not followed that experiment with a country-wide district index.

What we have now has enough potential to serve as India’s first district-denominated agriculture and rural development index. Even if the Ministries of Agriculture and of Rural Development ignore it (for the usual absurd reasons that have to do with the gaseous egos of ministers and their puffed-up underlings, IAS cadres not excepted) the index set is sound enough to begin being adopted by institutions and research groups (as also NGOs and CBOs) and thereby expanded and developed in wiki-like manner.

The impetus comes from the National Rainfed Area Authority which has worked with the Central Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture (CRIDA, in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh) and the Indian Agricultural Statistics Research Institute (IASRI, in New Delhi). I am pleasantly surprised by the uncharacteristic cooperation between these institutions, not because India’s NARS doesn’t have within it people with skill and who care, but because the indefatigably short-sighted lot running the Indian Council of Agricultural Research have traditionally scotched all such socially relevant collaboration. So, encomiums are due to CRIDA and IASRI for being true to their potential.

A farmer in the district of Mysore, Karnataka state, prepares her rice field.

A farmer in the district of Mysore, Karnataka state, prepares her rice field.

And that is how we have the ‘Rainfed Areas Prioritisation Index’ (naturally collapsible into RAPI) which combines a natural resource index and an integrated livelihood index. Thus, each one of 499 districts (urban and urbanised districts are excluded, as are districts in Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Kerala, as cultivation in the districts of these three states is considered to be predominantly horticulture). The natural resource index has seven variables: rainfall, drought, available water content of soil, area under degraded and waste lands, rainfed area, status of ground water, and irrigation intensity. The integrated livelihood index has three variables: socio-economic index, health and sanitation index and infrastructure index.

These two indices have been combined by assigning a weight of two-thirds to the natural resource priority index of a district, and weight of one-third to the livelihood priority index of a district, and so to derive the district’s Rainfed Areas Prioritisation Index (RAPI). Based on their RAPI scores, the three index developers have identified 167 districts, the top one-third of the full list, as needing attention with programmes designed to strengthen and support rainfed farming.

[You can find an Excel file with the 167 districts here. There are, in order of frequency per state, 32 in Rajasthan, 30 in Madhya Pradesh, 16 in Karnataka, 16 in Maharashtra, 13 in Gujarat, 13 in Jharkhand, 11 in Uttar Pradesh, 9 in Andhra Pradesh, 8 in Orissa, 6 in Tamil Nadu, 5 in Chhattisgarh, 4 in Bihar, 2 in Assam and 2 in West Bengal.]

The RAPI has come at an important moment. The Twelfth Five Year plan is now a year old and the budgetary support given to India’s two ‘flagship’ (how did this term become so popular? The Bharat Nirman seems to be all flag and never mind the ship) agriculture programmes – the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana and the National Food Security Mission – continues to increase. How to measure whether the RKVY and the NFSM are money well spent, or ill spent. The RAPI should help there, but far more important, it is the first genuinely local framework for gauging a district’s endowment of agricultural, human, natural and econmic resources. Wish it well.

The enormous world of household small food purchases

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What households in India spent, in crore rupees and all put together, on major food categories in 2011-12.

What households in India spent, in crore rupees and all put together, on major food categories in 2011-12.

How much do Indian households, all of them put together, spend on fruit and vegetables in a year? How much do they spend on pulses, or footwear, or transport? The Private Final Consumption Expenditure (PFCE) tells us, and these enormous figures are calculated by the Central Statistics Office (CSO), of the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MoSPI).

The Central Statistics Office has now released the ‘First Revised estimates of National Income, Consumption Expenditure, Saving and Capital Formation’ for the financial year 2011-12. Here, in the biggest of big numbers for an ocean of motley small purchases, is what we now know: that Private Final Consumption Expenditure (or PFCE, to add to the army of acronyms) at current prices is estimated at INR 5,056,219 crore in 2011-12 as against INR`4,349,889 crore in 2010-11. In constant (2004-05) prices, the PFCE is estimated at INR 3,334,900 crore in 2011-12 as against INR 3,088,880 crore in 2010-11.

(How to deal with big numbers? An Indian crore is ten million. so 990,511 crore in the paragraph below is 9.905 trillion!)

It is the food category of the PFCE that I am interested in and, at current prices, consumption expenditure by India’s households on food has risen from NR 990,511 crore (about USD 182 billion) in 2008-09 to INR 1,472,086 crore (about USD 271 billion) in 2011-12 (in current prices, the corresponding figures in constant 2004-05 prices are INR 929,881 crore and INR 1,046,228 crore).

There is an earlier year given, 2004-05, which is the year to which the constant price has been based, and it becomes useful to use this to estimate the rise (in a straight line for convenience) for the intervening years to provide a sense of what components of the food main category are rising more quickly than others.

Under food, the component with the highest PFCE is ‘fruits and vegetables’ with INR 372,727 crore – see the pie chart. This is followed by ‘milk and milk products’ with INR 332,728 crore and by ‘cereals and bread’ with INR 323,592 crore.

Using the set of current prices, and examining the increases in PFCE for two periods – 2008-09 to 2011-12, and 2004-05 to 2011-12 – we can see which food components have attracted the greatest expenditure. These increases (as they are calculated using current prices) are likely to be as much a tale of inflation in the price of that food component as they are to be due to the changing dietary patterns in urban and rural India.

Hence we see the expenditure on ‘potato and other tubers’ having risen 78% in 2011-12 from 2008-09, and this is the steepest food component rise (this is a puzzle). Close behind is the 76% increase in ‘hotel and restaurants’ which undoubtedly reflects the growing new tendency (especially amongst youth who have migrated to cities to take up service sector jobs) to eat their meals out. Expenditure on ‘tobacco and its products’ from 2008-09 to 2011-12 has risen 61% while on ‘milk and milk products’ it has risen 59% over the same period, and this gives a number to the explosion of dairy products in the last five years.

Hasta siempre comandante Chávez

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Hasta_Siempre_Comandante_ChavezFour short and insightful tributes to Chávez in Monthly Review’s MRZine.

From ‘Farewell Comrade Chávez’, by Fred Magdoff – “With the death of Hugo Chávez, Venezuela and the world have lost a leader whose primary concern was to bring a new system into existence – one he referred to as 21st Century Socialism. Hugo Chávez was well aware, as many Venezuelans are, of the problems that remained in the country. But this remarkable man has created space to try new ideas and begin the process that will hopefully lead to a lasting transformation to a more humane society.”

From ‘Por Ahora: A Few Words for Hugo Chávez’, by Chris Gilbert – “Most people won’t remember well the details of the moment in which Chávez implied that George W. Bush was the devil. The truth is it wasn’t planned at all. I believe the ‘mot juste’ simply occurred to Chávez there in UN in 2006. Who smelled more of sulfur than Bush? The words traveled around the globe.”

From ‘The World-Historical Importance of Hugo Chávez’, by Jay Moore – “On a world-historical scale, Chávez was of enormous significance because he and his Bolivarian Movement put revolutionary socialism back onto the global agenda. Chávez was first elected as Venezuelan president in 1999. The Zapatista guerillas with the iconic Subcomandante Marcos had emerged from the Chiapas jungles in 1994 and inspired some new hope. But the world was still reeling from the collapse of “really existing socialism” in the Soviet bloc in 1991. Then, seemingly bursting out of nowhere but actually, as we began to learn, out of a long tradition of struggle against neo-liberalism in Venezuela, came Hugo Chávez, a man incorporating in his physiognomy all the colors of the hemisphere and a highly gifted orator.”

From ‘Chávez’s Chief Legacy: Building, with People, an Alternative Society to Capitalism’, by Marta Harnecker – “Chávez conceived of socialism as a new collective life in which equality, freedom, and real and deep democracy reign, and in which the people plays the role of protagonist; an economic system centered on human beings, not on profits; a pluralistic, anti-consumerist culture in which the act of living takes precedence over the act of owning. [the creation of] communal councils (self-managed community spaces), workers’ councils, student councils, and peasant councils is so important, for the purpose of forming a truly collective structure, which must express itself as a new form of decentralised state whose fundamental building blocks should be communes.”

Written by makanaka

March 7, 2013 at 20:59

Does a food price index plateau signal rising real food prices?

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The short red line is more worrying than the gyrating blue line.

The short red line is more worrying than the gyrating blue line.

We have from the FAO this month (that means February 2013, released in March), the updated FAO food price index coinciding with its Crop Prospects and Food Situation. This dual release gives us the opportunity to look at the interplay between the FAO food price index and its cereals sub-index, what the ‘Prospects’ quarterly has said about cereals worldwide, and what recent index numbers seem to be telling us.

First the tale of the unfiltered numbers. The FAO Food Price Index averaged 210 points in February 2013, unchanged from January but – FAO points out with what sounds to me like mild relief – “five points (2.5%) below the corresponding month last year”. More interesting is the observation by the food price indexers that “since November the Index has moved within a narrow 210-212 point range, as increases in the prices of dairy products and oils/fats were largely balanced out by declines in the prices of cereals and sugar”.

The usual blue pair

The usual blue pair

If you dwell awhile on the chart I have made for just the cereals sub-index of the FAO food price index (above left), which traces the journey of this sub-index from 2008 January, you will see that from 2008 July it plunged and stayed low (relatively for this period) until 2010 June, and then the ascent to the 230-250 level was steep. And there it has remained. The short red line describes a cumulative average for the 12 months until 2013 February, and the trend for this ‘alarum’ (I am partial to medieval English) is quite clear, forsooth.

Since we have discussed earlier what the FAO food price index in fact describes, which is not what food consumers pay for their daily several hundred grams (if that, sadly) of staples, this does to me look like we can read a plateau as signalling persistent high and rising true cost of food to consumer. Perhaps I should petition the folks inside that citadel on Rome’s Viale delle Terme di Caracalla to rename their index into an indicator.

The leading wheat producers for 2013

The leading wheat producers for 2013

But only if they are not otherwise busy answering telephone calls (or telegrams, as they did in an earlier and far less frenetic age) about the ‘early prospects for 2013 cereal crops’ which is the star of this quarter’s Crop Prospects and Food Situation bulletin. For, here is what they have said:

“FAO’s first forecast for world wheat production in 2013 stands at 690 million tonnes, representing an increase of 4.3 percent from the 2012 harvest and, the second largest crop on record after that of 2011. The increase is expected mostly in Europe, driven by an expansion in area in response to high prices, and a recovery in yields from below-average levels in some parts last year, notably the Russian Federation.”

Cereals production in Asia

Cereals production in Asia

Elsewhere in Europe, we have been told, prospects are satisfactory in the Russian Federation (a big jump, as the chart shows). In neighbouring Ukraine, a large recovery in wheat output is forecast. In North America, the outlook in the USA has been diplomatically called “less favourable than among the other major wheat producing countries” (makes me wonder if the Prospects authors have been fraternising too frequently with UNFCCC staff). Perhaps they haven’t yet noticed the US Drought Monitor, which may explain the “aggregate wheat output is tentatively forecast to decrease” for the USA.

In Asia, the Prospects expects “a record wheat output of some 121 million tonnes in 2013” in the People’s Republic (of China, newly minus Wen Jiabao as premier). It also expects “a record wheat output” in Pakistan and “another bumper crop” in India (what will that do to the already mountainous central stocks of cereals?). Australia and wheat can be summarised (by me, not them) in a word: uncertain.

Written by makanaka

March 7, 2013 at 20:23

Protests be damned, more money given for India’s nuclear power obsession

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The announcement by India's Department of Atomic Energy asking for recruits, to form a new cadre that will run N-power plants.

The announcement by India’s Department of Atomic Energy asking for recruits, to form a new cadre that will run N-power plants.

Ignoring utterly the continuous protests against nuclear power plants in India, the central government in the 2013-14 Union budget has promised even more money to the Indian nuclear power establishment. Moreover, a signal has been sent to India’s anti-nuclear power movement that the government in power intends to institutionalise the training (indoctrination) of new cadres of nuclear power plant drones who will look after (if they survive) the killer reactors being built.

But first, the finance. The Department of Atomic Energy has been allocated a proposed INR 13,879 crore (or INR 138.79 billion, equivalent to about USD 2.53 billion and about EUR 1.94 billion). The allocation in 2012-13 was INR 11,673 crore (or INR 116.73 billion, about USD 2.13 billion or about EUR 1.63 billion), and in 2011-12 it was INR 7,257 crore (or INR 72.57 billion, about USD 1.32 billion or about EUR 1.02 billion). So in two years the allocation has risen 90%.

Where is the new money going to go? INR 37 billion for research and development, INR 12 billion for industries sector projects (which sounds like preparing India’s atomic power public sector to receive foreign direct investment), INR 4.7 billion for the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, a useless and dangerous plaything of the world’s pampered and irresponsible nuclear power schoolboys, and INR 2.5 billion for the Bharatiya Nabhikiya Vidyut Nigam Ltd, which is supposed to build a 500MW prototype fast breeder reactor.

A letter written by R K Gupta, who worked at the BARC plant, warning against the Indian nuclear establishment.

A letter written by R K Gupta, who worked at the BARC plant, warning against the Indian nuclear establishment.

Second, the preparing of a first crop of wide-eyed, misguided and hopelessly uninformed young Indians to be the frontline cannon fodder when radiation leaks occur. The text of a newspaper announcement (image above), released three days after the budget, said:

“DAE [Department of Atomic Energy] invites young, dynamic engineering graduates and science post-graduates to a stimulating world of cutting edge technology in pursuit of basic and applied research and development in a wide variety of frontier areas of relevance to our nuclear programme in the domain of engineering, physical, chemical, biological and earth sciences as well as nuclear engineering including design, construction, operation and maintenance of nuclear reactors and associated fuel cycle facilities.”

On offer (without nuke hazard suits) are, a one-year orientation course for engineering graduates and science post-graduates, a two-year DAE graduate fellowship scheme for engineering graduates and post-graduates in physics.

The huge increases in the budget for the DAE have come during continuing, large-scale, organised and steadfast agitations against nuclear power plants in Koodankulam (Tamil Nadu), the proposed plants in Jaitapur (Maharashtra) and in Mithi Virdi (Gujarat). At the forefront is the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE) which in a press release on 21 February 2013 said: “The officials of the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Project (KKNPP), the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) and the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) have consistently refused to share any public documents on the KKNPP (the Koodankulam plant) and to reveal any truths about the various leaks, repairs and the technical problems in the project.”

PMANE is also coordinating opposition to a “nuclear power park” (how frightful a term is that?) that is being set up at Mithi Virdi, Gujarat. The reactor vendor Westinghouse signed a memorandum of understanding with the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) in 2012 to construct six AP1000 units at the site. The people of Mithi Virdi, Jaspara, Mandva, Khadarpar and other neighbouring villages oppose the project and in the past they forced survey engineers to leave the project site. PMANE calls it a “struggle against the American annihilation plant”.

Reportage about the opposition, the protests, the repression visited upon protesters (in their own lands and villages) by the central government has till now been frequent and independent. A recent report in the English news daily DNA had said that the decision to import 40,000 MWe capacity light water reactors (LWRs) in early 2006 was taken without any techno-economic evaluation by the Atomic Energy Commission or any other agency to assess the need for these imports, quoting a former chairman of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB). Another report explained how the local organisation spearheading the opposition to the proposed 9,900 MW nuclear power plant in Jaitapur said it wanted the whole project to be scrapped. “Our struggle is for cancellation of the nuclear plant project…. We do not want increased monetary package,” the report quoted Prakash Waghdhare, President of the Madban, Jaitapur, Mithgavane, Panchkroshi Sangharsh Samiti.

Written by makanaka

March 3, 2013 at 22:35