Archive for July 2013
The circles in this chart represent the rural population of 20 of India’s largest states by population. The National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) divides the rural (and also the urban) population of each state into tenths (they call them ‘deciles’), and the NSS surveys on consumption expenditure tell us how much each decile in each state spends, for example between Rs 800 and Rs 950 a month.
I made this chart using data from the NSS report, ‘Level and Pattern of Consumer Expenditure’ (the 66th Round, which surveyed the population between 2009 July and 2010 June). With 20 states and ten categories each, I had 200 readings to plot, examining the consumption in quantities for cereals and pulses.
Depending on the population of the state, some of those circles represent 3-5 million people! Now here is the grim finding. Of these, 72 do not meet even 75% of the minimum cereals requirement (about 10.4 kg) a month, and 106 do not meet even 50% of the minimum pulses requirement (about 0.6 kg) a month – these are the National Institute of Nutrition recommended dietary allowances. And 43 of these deciles are severely deficient in both.
For the last week, there has been a great deal of comment and discussion about how the increase in expenditure – especially in rural India – is ‘evidence’ of increasing incomes, of widening prosperity and a general ‘lifting out of poverty’. It is misleading because neither the central government nor its supporters (there are many supporting views to be found in the media) has pointed out that an increase in expenditure will of course take place given the rise in the price of food and fuel.
Comparing what the NSS has surveyed in 2009-10 with its 2004-05 survey, in some areas of expenditure the rupee rise is 300%-400% (such as for the eggs fish and meat, fresh fruit and beverages categories) and it will be useful to extract the quantities behind these increases in expenditure (I will get around to doing this as soon as possible).
In any case, the quantities consumed for cereals and pulses have actually declined for rural and urban citizens. While the proportion of expense, out of total food expense (all-India figures for rural populations), on pulses and on milk (and milk products) has remained roughly the same – 5.6% to 5.2% and 15.3% to 15.2% – the proportion spent on cereals has dropped from 32.7% to 20.2%.
I think this an extremely significant change that can be read together with the two big increases in proportion of spending – on egg fish and meat from 6% to 9% and on beverages from 8.2% to 15%. In the NSS definition, beverages also includes purchased meals and processed food, and it is this conversion of primary cereals (including coarse cereals) and pulses to processed foods that I see as an important factor behind the biggest change in the proportions spent on food in recent years.
New poverty claims from the government of India are being interpreted as (a) proof that the economic liberalisation is working, (b) that the ruling coalition has begun its preparation for the 2014 general election by claiming the largest percentage reduction of poverty ever, (c) that the ruling coalition by lowering the poverty line (and therefore the number of Indians identified as poor) will slash its social subsidies outlay, (d) that the way India measures poverty is desperately in need of repair, if not altogether in need of renewal.
India’s English-language media (in particular the financial and business press) has either repeated what the Planning Commission has released, or has reported reactions to the latest claim from opposition parties. Here is a selection:
“The proportion of people living below poverty line (BPL) has came down from 37.2 per cent in 2004-05 to 21.9 per cent in 2011-12 — a decline of 15.3 percentage points in a period that roughly coincides with the first eight years of the United Progressive Alliance.”
“The sharp drop was attributed to the high real growth in recent years, which raised the consumption capacity. The number of India’s poor fell to less than a quarter of its population in 2011-12, giving the government a reason to cheer amid the recent raft of disappointing macro economic data.”
“Over the last decade, poverty has witnessed a consistent decline with the levels dropping from 37.2% in 2004-05 to 29.8% in 2009-10. The number of poor is now estimated at 269.3 million, of which 216.5 million reside in rural India.”
“One theory is that this is the outcome of the trickle-down impact of the record growth witnessed in the first decade of the new millennium.”
“The BJP slammed the figures as a ‘political gimmick’ and a ‘conspiracy’ of the Congress to deprive the poor of the benefits of government schemes while CPI(M) said it amounted to ‘adding salt to the wounds of the poor’.”
It was only last year, in 2012 June, that the Planning Commission constituted an ‘expert group’ chaired by a former head of the Reserve Bank of India to “review the methodology for the measurement of poverty”. In the hoary tradition of Indian bureaucratese, this expert group is now “deliberating on this issue” (said the Planning Commission) and is expected to submit its report by the middle of 2014.
What is the main substance of the new claim? The note from the Planning Commission (titled ‘Press Note on Poverty Estimates, 2011-12’ and dated July 2013) has stated that the “percentage of persons below the poverty line in 2011-12 has been estimated as 25.7% in rural areas, 13.7% in urban areas and 21.9% for the country as a whole”. [A spreadsheet with the new statewise rural and urban poverty lines is available here.]
Thereafter the myth of the descending poverty line is outlined: that in 2004-05 the respective poverty ratios for the rural and urban areas were 41.8% and 25.7% and 37.2% for the country; that in 1993-94 the ratios were 50.1% in rural areas, 31.8% in urban areas and 45.3% for the country. And, in triumphant tones, that hence the 407 million Indians below the poverty line in 2004-05 had by 2011-12 dwindled dramatically to 270 million – a reduction of 137 million persons over a short seven years! And that indeed, it is all the more significant that for the last eight years it is the UPA (that is, the Congress) that has ruled India. So flows the polemic.
In the eagerness to find ‘rural’ and ‘urban’ and a ‘national’ poverty line, the tales of the deciles of the NSS surveys, referred to only fleetingly, are of importance (for the 43rd, 50th, 55th, 61st, 66th and 68th rounds, all of which we hope are being studied by the Rangarajan expert group). The deciles in the 68th round tell us that in rural India, the average monthly expenditure per person of Rs 153 on cereals would buy 7.3 kg of rice or 8.5 kg of wheat, and that the Rs 40 spent per person on pulses would buy 0.85 kg of pulses, both monthly measures (outside the fair price shop) being well under (13.8 kg and 1.2 kg respectively) the recommended dietary allowances.
The signs have been gaining substance over the last two years. In western Europe (Britain excluded), citizens and independent researchers have demanded and end to GM food products. The support given to the seed-biotech-fertiliser conglomerates of the USA and Europe, by their governments has been well met by organised consumer awareness and resistance. It is no wonder then that these cartels have shifted the use of their tactics to Asia, where political establishments can be more easily influenced and where consumer awareness about the dreadful dangers of GM is generally lower than in western Europe.
Europe’s press is reporting that Monsanto, the fertiliser and biotechnology company, is withdrawing all permits requested to the European Commission to grow genetically modified corn, soy and sugar beet because it does not see “a commercial outlook” for these products (that’s what the public relations scoundrels call what we know and practice as informed consumer awareness).
German daily Die Welt reported that only a request to grow genetically modified corn (of the MON810 type) will be renewed. For the moment, this type of corn is the only genetically modified organism commercially cultivated in Europe, said Die Welt. While MON810 corn type is admitted into the EU, several countries including France, Germany and Italy have banned it at the national level, following citizen initiatives. Last year, German chemical firm BASF threw in the towel and relocated its biotechnology centre to the USA because genetic engineering is so strongly contested in Europe.
Monsanto has loudly insisted that its genetically modified products, including maize MON810, which is authorised in Europe, are safe for humans. It has an army of compromised ‘scientists’ on its payroll in every single country where it wants to push its GM products, and using its public relations agents has infiltrated media in every country that it sees as a market. But the evidence that GM is dangerous for humans and animals, for insects and plants alike grows by the day. A study conducted on rats for two years by a team of French researchers on Monsanto NK 603 corn revealed an abnormally high tumour and death rate – Monsanto’s own in-house studies, pushed out as counter-evidence by mercenary accomplices, were conducted for no more than three months!
Greenpeace noted the company will also seek to continue sales of its controversial MON810 maize, which was already approved in Europe and is the last remaining GM crop grown there. “The EU-wide authorisation for the cultivation of MON810 is expiring at the end of a ten-year period and the safety of the crop is due to be reassessed. The company is permitted to continue to use MON810 in Europe until the European Commission announces its decision,” stated Greenpeace.
The GM Freeze campaign welcomed Monsanto’s announcement that it is withdrawing pending applications to cultivate GM crops in the European Union but said this is not the end of Europe’s GM story. GM Freeze pointed out that Monsanto’s GM crops will still be imported into the EU, primarily for use in animal feed and biofuels, so the damage to ecosystems and human health caused by GM will continue elsewhere. The lack of labels on meat, eggs, dairy products and fish produced using GM feed means that Europe’s reliance on GM is hidden from consumers so they cannot easily avoid buying GM-fed products. Food companies should meet the clear demand for entirely non-GM foods by labelling those produced without GM, as is done successfully by many companies in Germany, Austria and France.
In tiresomely typical contrast, the government of the United Kingdom is to push the European Union to ease restrictions limiting the use of GM crops in the human food chain, reported The Independent. Britain’s Environment Secretary Owen Paterson is next week due to announce a UK government drive to increase Britain’s cultivation of GM foods! The newspaper said Britain’s ministers are hopeful of building support in Brussels for a change of heart on GM, with Germany seen as a key swing voter. The government of Britain’s craven attempts to relax the rules will face opposition from countries like Poland which in April became the eighth EU member state to ban the cultivation of GM crops.
Forgetting their ‘commitments’ to get GM out of their supply chains, big British food retailers – Sainsbury’s, Marks & Spencer and Tesco – have gone in the opposite direction. Sainsbury’s and Marks & Spencer have joined Monsanto, Cargill and Nestle on the absurd Roundtable on Responsible Soy, a group that has been condemned by organisations around the world as a greenwash of existing bad practice in industrial soya monoculture. The Roundtable ‘certifies’ (judge and jury) GM soya as “responsible” despite growing evidence of adverse health, environmental and socioeconomic impacts in producer countries. Tesco is now backing GM soya production in South America, where it is grown in huge monocultures sprayed frequently with Roundup to the detriment of people and ecosystems there.
These pictures are from James Mollison’s book of photographs of children from around the world and where they sleep (thanks to The Telegraph of Britain for running an article on the book). Mollison hopes his photographs will encourage children to think about inequality. He sees his pictures as “a vehicle to think about poverty and wealth, about the relationship of children to their possessions, and the power of children – or lack of it – to make decisions about their lives”.
1) China is the world’s biggest grain producer and maintains a standing policy that forbids growing GM grain. But China does allow imports of certain GM products. In 2012, China imported over 58 million tons of soybeans – mostly genetically modified. Public opinions on GM crops in China are polarised, with a great number of people holding suspicions toward GM products.
Rao Yi, a professor and dean of Peking University’s School of Life Sciences, said that while some GM-related concerns still need to be discussed, there are also rumors that need to be dispelled. Domestically-grown soybean is scarce in China, as China’s imports of GM soybeans rocketed to 58 million tons from less than 3 million tons in 1997. Many farmers have abandoned soybeans for other crops, as imported soybeans are cheaper. GM technology is the future of agriculture, said Fang Zhouzi, a biochemist and vocal supporter of GM technology, adding that it will be harder for China “to catch up with the USA” if China does not recognize this fact.
2) Cargill, the world’s largest food company, has been secretly amassing land from small farmers in eastern Colombia, despite a law prohibiting the practice. When the two countries signed a free trade agreement last year, Cargill emerged as the owner of 52,574 hectares where it grows corn and soybeans. The small farms in the isolated high plains of Vichada department in eastern Colombia were given to poor peasants in the 1990s under a scheme to convert ‘wasteland’ in an area that had become a stronghold for the lucrative cocaine trade. Colombian law prohibits any one person or entity from owning more than one “agricultural family unit” of this land in an effort to diversify land ownership in a country where most land is owned by a small wealthy minority.
3) The profound impacts of the agribusiness model know no borders between rural and urban. In rural areas and outer suburbs they are measured in terms of agrotoxin poisoning, displaced farmers (who swell the ranks of the urban poor), ruined regional economies, correspondingly high urban food prices, and contamination of the food supply. Ultimately, what we are looking at is a social and environmental catastrophe settling like a plague over the entire region. Wherever you live, you cannot ignore it.
The handful of people and companies responsible for this chain of destruction have names: Monsanto and a few other biotech corporations (Syngenta, Bayer) leading the pack; large landowners and planting pools that control millions of hectares (Los Grobo, CRESUD, El Tejar, Maggi, and others); and the cartels that move grain around the world (Cargill, ADM, and Bunge). Not to mention the governments of each of these countries and their enthusiastic support for this model. To these should be added the many auxiliary businesses providing services, machinery, spraying, and inputs that have enriched themselves as a result of the model.
To put some numbers on the phenomenon, there are currently over 46 million ha of GE soy monoculture in the region. These are sprayed with over 600 million litres of glyphosate and are causing deforestation at a rate of at least 500,000 ha per year.
4) The 2013 World Food Prize has gone to three chemical company executives, including Monsanto executive vice president and chief technology officer, Robert Fraley, responsible for development of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Yet, GMO seeds have not been designed to meet the Prize’s mandate and function in ways that actually impede progress toward the stated goals of the World Food Prize.
Almost twenty years after commercialisation of the first GMO seeds, by far the most widely used are not engineered to enhance nutrient content, but to produce a specific pesticide or to resist a proprietary herbicide, or a combination of these traits. Even in reducing weeds, the technology is failing, for it has led to herbicide-resistant “super weeds” now appearing on nearly half of American farms.
This award not only communicates a false connection between GMOs and solutions to hunger and agricultural degradation, but it also diverts attention from truly “nutritious and sustainable” agroecological approaches already proving effective, especially in the face of extreme weather. Developed and controlled by a handful of companies, genetically engineered seeds further the concentration of power and the extreme inequality at the root of this crisis of food inaccessibility.
This is a three-minute film that narrates the impact of humans on the planet and on the water cycle. The global footprint of human habitation – built-up regions, water extraction, industrial agriculture, mineral and fossil fuel extraction – has driven Earth into a new geological epoch: the Anthropocene.
Human activities such as damming and agriculture are changing the global water cycle in significant ways. The film quickly and dramatically describes Earth’s changing global water cycle, why it is changing and what this means for the future. The vertical spikes that appear in the film represent the 48,000 large dams that have been built. The film is part of the first website on the concept of humans as a geological force and was made for the the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme.
Let’s get the definitions out of the way first. The Consumer Price Index for industrial workers in India is compiled by the Labour Bureau of the Ministry of Labour and Employment. These Consumer Price Indices measure the changes in the level of retail prices of a fixed set of goods and services consumed by an average working class family. The retail prices are collected from 78 cities distributed through practically all states and regions.
These indices are used for fixing the wages and the dearness allowance (a vintage term, used to calibrate a flexible allowance so as to allow salaries to adjust to goods having become more ‘dear’, or expensive) of millions of workers and employees in India. These indices also serve us as important indicators of retail price movement in India.
How are these prices collected and from where? As the Labour Bureau has explained, popularity, amongst customers, is the main criterion for selecting shops. The selection process includes “observation of the shops during peak business hours by a team of field officers of the Labour Bureau and interviews of the local workers”. (It sounds very systematic and thorough but, given the miserly budgets available, I doubt whether the Ministry of Labour is able to afford the people required to do this carefully and regularly; still, it’s the best we have.)
For each item or service, two selected shops and two reserve shops are listed. This is because, if the price of an item (such as wheat flour or jaggery) cannot be collected from the ‘selected shops’, then the prices are collected from the ‘reserve shops’. And if prices cannot be collected even from the ‘reserve shops’ then any other shop in the market will do!
What the detail of the chart above shows is the worm-like crawling, ever upward and steeply, of the 78 individual trendlines of the Consumer Price Indices (for industrial workers). What we see is that from 2009 July, the variation within the band increases, and increases at a rate greater than the period 2006 Jan to 2009 July.
Which are the cities in which the CPI-IW has increased more sharply in the latter period, that is, 2009 September to 2013 March, than in the earlier period, 2006 January to 2009 September? Mumbai and Nashik (Maharashtra), Ahmedabad, Bhilai (Chhattisgarh), Vishakhapatanam (Andhra Pradesh), Vadodara (Gujarat), Salem (Tamil Nadu), Pondicherry, Jabalpur (Madhya Pradesh), Jalandhar (Punjab), Chandigarh, Surat and Bhavnagar (Gujarat), and Hubli-Dharwad (Karnataka) have all seen steeper increases in the CPI-IW – between 5% and 10% more – in the last three years than in the first three years.
In Rajkot (Gujarat), Durgapur (West Bengal), Ernakulam (Kerala), Madurai (Tamil Nadu), Jamshedpur and Jharia (Jharkhand), Chennai and Tiruchirapally (Tamil Nadu), Ajmer (Rajasthan), Coonoor (Tamil Nadu) and Mysore (Karnataka) the rate of increase in the CPI-IW has been 10% to 20%. And in Quilon and Mundakayam (Kerala) and Haldia (West Bengal) the rate of increase has been more than 20%! Hence we see very clearly that the effects of the 2007-08 global food price spike was experienced by labour and consumers in India’s cities, but that in many of these cities, the food and general inflation over the last three years has been even more severe.
In an important news report, ‘How the NSA Targets Germany and Europe’, Der Spiegel has reviewed a series of documents which prove that Germany played a central role in the NSA’s global surveillance network – and how the Germans have also become targets of US attacks. Each month, the US intelligence service saves data from around half a billion communications connections from Germany.
According to the listing, Germany is among the countries that are the focus of surveillance. Thus, the documents confirm that the US intelligence service, with approval from the White House, is spying on the Germans, said Der Spiegel, and possibly right up to the level of the chancellor.
Britain has been revealed as the junior partner in this Orwellian scheme. But the European Commission has reacted swiftly and strongly. In a letter to UK Foreign Secretary William Hague, the Commission vice-president Viviane Reding requested detailed clarifications about the scope of the UK’s spying practices and even hinted at legal action.
The new aspect of the revelations isn’t that countries are trying to spy on each other, eavesdropping on ministers and conducting economic espionage. What is most important about the documents is that they reveal the possibility of the absolute surveillance of a country’s people and foreign citizens without any kind of effective controls or supervision.
Many high-ranking European officials have issued statements of outrage and protest against America’s spying. These representatives of the European ruling class pretend surprise at the revelations but have no doubt acquiesced to, authorised or supported similar surveillance of their own populations and of their American counterparts.
Nevertheless, the unanimity of the response is an indication that European governments have been goaded into voicing the concerns of their citizens. The US dragnet of telecommunications and the internet over Europe has never been so visible, as are now, thanks to Edward Snowden, US efforts to persecute those who have brought the spying to public notice.
In the USA, the slavish corporate media has condemned Snowden’s actions. Witness a representative reaction in the New York Times, for whom Snowden is the product of an “atomised society” and lacking “respect for institutions and deference to common procedures”! This daily newspaper, like others in its pettyfogging class and like the American national television channels, bloodthirsty and war-mongering now for a decade, has ignored the point made bluntly by the American Civil Liberties Union that these “institutions and procedures” long ago lost their claim to respectability.
Britain has been cast even further into Europe’s data protection wilderness after revelations that its formerly glorious signals intelligence agency GCHQ has been monitoring web and telecommunications on an even greater scale than the NSA. Germany’s justice minister, Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, has demanded explanations from her British counterpart, asking whether the 30-day retention of signals data is based on concrete suspicion or is warrantless (guess which?).
Yet, as Der Spiegel has commented, among the intelligence agencies in the Western world there appears to be a division of duties and at times extensive cooperation. And it appears that the principle that foreign intelligence agencies do not monitor the citizens of their own country, or that they only do so on the basis of individual court decisions, is obsolete in this world of globalised communication and surveillance. Hence Britain’s GCHQ intelligence agency, the American NSA and Germany’s BND foreign intelligence agency create a matrix is created of boundless surveillance in which each partner aids in a division of roles.