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Archive for August 2013

The encirclement of Syria

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A map prepared by German magazine Der Spiegel to show areas of control in Syria.

A map prepared by German magazine Der Spiegel to show areas of control in Syria.

Update: Samples collected by the UN chemical experts team in the Damascus suburb will be transferred to laboratories for analysis “within hours,” a spokesperson for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said in a note to correspondents. “The samples were shipped this afternoon from The Hague and will reach their destination within hours,” the note said. It added that the designated laboratories are prepared to begin the analyses “immediately after receipt of samples.”

Ria Novosti has quoted Alexei Pushkov, who heads the international affairs committee in the lower chamber of the Russian parliament, the State Duma, as having said: “By sending the Nimitz nuclear aircraft carrier to Syria’s shores, Obama demonstrates that the military action has been postponed, but not cancelled, and that he is determined to start a war.”

Press communiqués from Russia indicate that President Vladimir Putin’s government in Moscow wants any military action to go through the UN Security Council, but will likely block any resolution to authorise it, citing lack of conclusive evidence that the Syrian government, not the insurgents, was behind the attack.
Moscow will continue to support the Assad government with weapons and humanitarian aid, as it has in the past. The view of Russian analysts is that this is so because Moscow has invested a considerable sum in Assad’s government through loans and financial support.

A readers' poll by presseurop shows 65% want nothing to do with war.

A readers’ poll by presseurop shows 65% want nothing to do with war.

Der Spiegel has a longish news feature in which it has explained that the USA has stepped back from an immediate response to the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria on 21 August 2013. But the Obama regime in Washington continues to profess “certainty” that Syrian president Bashar Assad is behind the attack. Der Spiegel’s tone is pro-White House and certainly not objective enough for even a third-rate district newspaper, but this sort of Europedantry is useful for indicating how the autocratic regimes in Berlin, Paris and London are currently thinking.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said secrecy by the West is unacceptable with regard to Syria and evidence of the use of chemical weapons there. He added that “what our American, British and French partners have shown us before – as well as now – does not convince us at all. There are no supporting facts, there is only repetitive talk in the vein of ‘we know for sure’. And when we ask for further clarification, we receive the following response: ‘You are aware that this is classified information, therefore we cannot show it to you.’ So there are still no facts.”

An article in Counterpunch has said that “having been released prior to even preliminary reports from UN chemical weapons investigators on the ground in Syria, the (American) document (claiming proof of the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons on its own population) is as much a work of fiction as it is fact.”

Outside the cosmeticised clutter of the world’s mainstream and corporate media, a number of information channels are citing interviews with doctors, Ghouta residents, rebel fighters in Syria and their families, from which a very different picture emerges. Many believe that certain rebels received chemical weapons via the Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, and were responsible for carrying out the dealing gas attack.

In a recent article for Business Insider, reporter Geoffrey Ingersoll highlighted Saudi Prince Bandar’s role in the two-and-a-half year Syrian civil war. Many observers believe Bandar, with his close ties to Washington, has been at the very heart of the push for war by the U.S. against Assad. Ingersoll referred to an article in Britain’s Daily Telegraph about secret Russian-Saudi talks alleging that Bandar offered Russian President Vladimir Putin cheap oil in exchange for dumping Assad.

“Prince Bandar pledged to safeguard Russia’s naval base in Syria if the Assad regime is toppled, but he also hinted at Chechen terrorist attacks on Russia’s Winter Olympics in Sochi if there is no accord,” Ingersoll wrote. “Along with Saudi officials, the US allegedly gave the Saudi intelligence chief the thumbs up to conduct these talks with Russia, which comes as no surprise. Bandar is American-educated, both military and collegiate, served as a highly influential Saudi Ambassador to the US, and the CIA totally loves this guy.”

A picture drawn by a Syrian child, living through the conflict. Image: CBBC Newsround (www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/21771713)

A picture drawn by a Syrian child, living through the conflict. Image: CBBC Newsround (www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/21771713)

Update: The rush to attack Syria by the Obama administration is being prepared in contempt of international law, democratic processes and in contempt of public opinion in the USA itself. This was made abundantly clear in the presentation US Secretary of State John Kerry delivered from the State Department on Friday, 30 August.

On Saturday, 31 August, Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed as “utter nonsense” the US claims that the Syrian government forces have used chemical weapons. “The Syrian government troops are on the offensive … So giving a trump card to those who are calling for a military intervention is utter nonsense,” Putin told reporters in Vladivostok.

The so-called US ‘Government Assessment of the Syrian Government’s Use of Chemical Weapons’ contains not one shred of probative evidence. As emphasised by the website of the International Committee of the Fourth International, the document, barely three pages long, includes a series of unsubstantiated assertions that are tailored to the US policy aim of manufacturing a pretext for direct intervention in a US-provoked civil war aimed at toppling the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad.

To the question, put to him by Syrian playwright Mohammad Al Attar, which was, “You have a cautious stance on recent Western statements about arming opposition fighters. Why is this?”, Noam Chomsky, interviewed in July 2013, replied: “It is linked to an evaluation of the consequences. Once again, I believe there are much simpler ways that the West can take before making the leap to military aid, some of which I have mentioned above, but which further include providing increased levels of humanitarian aid. If we are serious, we must look at the consequences of such an action. What would be the result on a humanitarian level? My question is practical, not ethical.” More from the Heinrich Böll Stiftung Middle East.

A page extract from NBC's poll on US military action against Syria.

A page extract from NBC’s poll on US military action against Syria.

But the views of the reasonable and pacifist many have rarely halted the war charges of the White House. A poll carried out by the American broadcaster NBC has showed that nearly 80% of those polled want approval from the US Congress for military action against Syria. “Nearly 80 percent of Americans believe President Barack Obama should receive congressional approval before using force in Syria, but the nation is divided over the scope of any potential strike,” the NBC report has said.

The raw poll findings, which I have extracted from the document helpfully posted in full by NBC, show the clarity with which the polled public view the recklessness of the Obama administration. In particular see the “no, will not improve the situation” and “no, not in our national interest” responses.

Older post: There is little point now in switching on any of the mainstream television news channels, for the propaganda campaign has shifted into high gear. The last decade has provided enough practice for such a campaign – war and unrest have become orchestrated as spectacles. There has been Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Egypt, Somalia and Al Qaeda. Hence the machinery used to package another war for the public has been well used. The official reasons given for the imminent attack on Syria are unsubstantiated and lies that are fashioned crudely into a bloodthirsty collection of pretexts to justify a policy planned well in advance.

Shoved aside are the voices that are calling for the investigations to find evidence of the alleged gas attacks inside Syria, to let dialogue and diplomacy dominate all interactions, to give all sides a hearing and count all views.

The voices are there and this is what they have said and are saying:

On 28 August 2013, with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and other UN officials urging continued cooperation, the UN team investigating alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria visited several locations in the suburbs of Damascus, including impact sites, where it collected additional information and samples. That work must continue, as Syria itself has asked the UN, speaking through its permanent representative to the UN speaking on 28 August 2013 (see this video clip).

On 25 August 2013 the Spokesperson for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on 24 and 25 August 2013, the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Angela Kane, met with senior officials of the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic. “The purpose of her visit was to seek cooperation of the Government in facilitating an expeditious investigation of the incident in the Ghouta area on 21 August involving the alleged use of chemical weapons,” noted the statement.

The UN Secretary-General instructed the investigating mission which began its on-site fact-finding activities on 26 August 2013, that is, only three days ago. And yet the governments in Washington and London are ferociously claiming there is no need for a UN Security Council resolution on what form of intervention to make in response, and indeed for the investigations to cease so that war can commence immediately.

For the USA and Britain – and their supporters in Germany and France and a few other countries – to threaten to or to militarily strike at Syria is a blatant violation of the United Nations Charter – which has not been mentioned by Barack Obama or David Cameron. The UN Charter requires countries to settle their international disputes peacefully. Article 2(4) makes it illegal for any country to either use force or threaten to use force against another country. Article 2(7) prohibits intervention in an internal or domestic dispute in another country. The only time military force is lawful under the Charter is when the Security Council approves it, or under Article 51, which allows a country to defend itself if attacked. None of the governments now howling for war were attacked.

A graphic by Ria Novosti showing the build-up of military in the Mediterranean and surrounding Syria.

A graphic by Ria Novosti showing the build-up of military in the Mediterranean and surrounding Syria.

Writing in The Guardian, Hans Blix reminded us that “In 2003 the US and the UK and an alliance of ‘friendly states’ invaded Iraq without the authorisation of the UN Security Council. “A strong body of world opinion felt that this constituted a violation and an undermining of the UN charter,” wrote Blix. “A quick punitive action in Syria today without UN authorisation would be another precedent, suggesting that great military powers can intervene militarily when they feel politically impelled to do so.” Blix was the head of the UN monitoring, verification and inspection commission from March 2000 to June 2003. In 2002, the commission began searching Iraq for weapons of mass destruction, ultimately finding none.

We can expect that Russia and China, on the UN Security Council, will use their veto to halt an Anglo-American war on Syria. That is why the USA and Britain have been assembling warships in the Mediterranean – were these warships there before the alleged gas attacks in Syria? That is what responsible media should be asking governments in Washington and London.

Nonetheless, there are more reliable news sources to turn to. The Russian news website RT is running a ‘Syria ‘chemical weapons’ crisis live updates’ page. Ria Novosti is also covering the crisis and you will reports such as “Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, have discussed the situation in Syria, condemned the use of chemical weapons, and called for a political settlement”.

And the People’s Republic of China has its global news service, Xinhua, which has reported Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as having said that his country “would defend itself against any foreign aggression, stressing determination to ‘eliminate terrorism’ in the war-weary country”.

The cereals demand footprint of smaller Indian cities

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All those squares need to grow wheat, rice and millets for the residents of this town of 123,286 people.

All those squares need to grow wheat, rice and millets for the residents of this town of 123,286 people.

On this map you can see, near the centre, the town of Amalner, in the state of Maharashtra, in the district of Jalgaon. In 2001 Amalner was a Class II town, as categorised by the Census of India based on its population being under 100,000 people – its population then was 91,490.

In the 2011 Census the population of Amalner was 116,750 which means the town has crossed the 100,000 mark and for the ten years between the two censuses, its population grew at just under 2.8% every year. Although rapid, that still places Amalner comfortably under the 3.4% average annual population growth rate of the 500 towns and cities whose details we have in the 2011 Census.

rg_amalner_section1How much food do the residents of Amalner need every year? Estimating the quantities is relatively less troublesome for cereals, whereas for pulses, vegetables, fruit, dairy and meat it is progressively more difficult and unreliable.

The squares on the map are scaled for the map, and that means each square is 100 hectares large at the scale of the map. They show the land area required to supply Amalner’s residents their wheat, rice and millets mix (I have taken a 40:40:20 mix as typical for Maharashtra). Crop yield data are from the Ministry of Agriculture, Department of Economics and Statistics, averaged, and adjusted for milled quantities of rice and wheat (but not millet).

How much wheat, rice and millet? The unmilled quantities I estimated are, for 2001: 5,940 tons (wheat), 7,630 tons (rice) and 2,670 tons (millets). For 2013 the quantities are: 8,000 tons (wheat), 10,290 tons (rice) and 3,600 tons (millets). The annual cereals requirement is based on the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) 2010 recommended dietary allowance (cereal 400 gm/capita/day).

Now this graphic, plotted on a map that shows the urban extent of Amalner, also shows the land ‘footprint’ of cereals that a typical smaller town requires. We have now much greater interest in urban agriculture than even two years earlier, and while these networks have begun to thrive, this analysis demonstrates the dependence by urban residents on districts to supply them cereals and pulses.

rg_amalner_section2In the graphic, the squares under the caption ‘additional cereals area in 2013’ show the new hectares required to be brought under cereals cultivation to meet the calorie needs and nutritional standards for Amalner’s growing population. The use of these squares on the map serves to show why land use change for urbanisation runs quickly into physical limits – provided those physical limits are recognised and planned for.

There are about 130 such urban settlements with populations of plus-minus 10,000 relative to the population of Amalner. Above this group are the cities with populations of 150,000 and above all the way to the million-plus metropolises. Below this set are the much more numerous small towns with populations of 20,000 to 100,000 and whose demand for food, and therefore on the maintenance of cultivated, is hardly known or measured.

Amalner’s 2.8% population growth rate every year also tells us there are migrants coming into the town. When those additional migrants are also cultivators and former agricultural labour, what will happen to the old and new hectares the cities need to keep cultivated? Where will the food come from?

A hasty and stunted legislation for food security in India

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The United Progressive Alliance in India, the ruling political coalition at whose centre is the Congress party, has called it “a historic initiative for ensuring food and nutritional security to the people”. By this is meant The National Food Security Bill, which was passed by the Lok Sabha on 26 August 2013.

In recent weeks, criticisms of the provisions of the bill and suggestions for its amendment gathered quickly, from political parties, from state governments, from civil society and NGOs and academics, and from citizens who have followed the twists and turns of the draft legislation since 2010. How many of these have been incorporated into the bill as passed by the Lok Sabha is still unclear, but a government press release stated that ten amendments were approved. I don’t know which ten but these would be small in number compared with the scores of amendments, corrections, modifications and re-draftings suggested by groups and coalitions that have long worked for food security in India and its states.

Sifting through news reports for relevant information, I find that:

(1) The government has said that the word ‘meal’ as used in the approved bill means hot cooked or pre-cooked and heated food and not the packaged food, which was a definition that provoked many when it was spotted in the draft. This is an important amendment as it has an impact on the enormous mid-day meals (for schoolchildren in government schools) and the integrated child development services (ICDS) programmes, which reach tens of millions. The fear was that packaged food would supplant, to the detriment of the children, hot and fresh cooked meals.

(2) As far as I can make out, another approved amendment gives states a year to implement the bill instead of six months. Earlier, under the ordinance (whose passage was roundly condemned), the central government was to determine the number of eligible beneficiaries in each state. Not only was this centrist in nature, it required the process by which beneficiary households were to be identified to be completed within 180 days, even though the guidelines for such identification are yet to be issued by the central government. Moreover, there has been no consultation with the states on this aspect.

(3) There is some reference made to the states determining their approach and measures towards implementing the bill, which will be (or may be) governed by “rules” that are to be drawn up in consultation with the state governments. This is important for, in the text of the Food Security Ordinance the central government reserved the right to introduce cash schemes instead of food in the Rules of the proposed legislation. This had signalled quite clearly its longer-term agenda of dismantling the system of procurement of grain from farmers at notified minimum support prices.

The reportage of the passing of the bill has touched upon a variety of issues and concerns, and here is a selection:

Lok Sabha passes Food Security Bill
Sonia Gandhi’s ambitious food bill gets Lok Sabha nod; UPA gets its ‘game-changer’
The Food Security Bill will cost a lot more than projected
Food security bill: Is it right or fight to food?
Long due, Food Security Bill meets mixed reaction
Food Bill will not raise fiscal deficit: Chidambaram
‘Not against Food Security Bill, but want certain changes’: BJP
Food Security a ‘historic opportunity’ or mere ‘vote security’?
Food security Bill gets Lok Sabha nod as Sonia lauds ’empowerment revolution’

The government has said that the Bill will cover 75% of the rural population and 50% percent of the urban population in all states, coming to an average of 67% for the total national population. This however will use (we await a full reading of the approved amendments that will clarify this matter) the methodology of the Planning Commission for poverty estimates which is to provide the basis for dividing the population between below and above the poverty line. This is the same methodology and ratios that have been soundly discredited.

The point that has been made forcefully by the Communist Party of India Marxist (CPIM) is that these caps on population compromise utterly the right of state governments to decide criteria as contained in the bill. The caps are set by Planning Commission methods, not by state governments themselves. That is why the guidelines that are to be drafted – via consultation, the central government has said – by the state governments must ensure the maximum inclusion, and not the limited inclusion decided by the Planning Commission.

Moreover, the All India Kisan Sabha at its 33rd All India Conference (24-27 July 2013 in Cuddalore, Tamil Nadu) had in a resolution of food security described the policy canvas against which this food security bill has now been passed:

“India has become more food-insecure over the last decade in terms of all three dimensions of food security: availability, access and absorption. Availability has been undermined by policies reducing productivity growth and making grain cultivation unremunerative. Access has been weakened by jobless growth and massive inflation destroying people’s purchasing power. Absorption has been undermined by the failure to invest in safe drinking water and sanitation. All three consequences are directly traceable to neoliberal policies. Yet, the UPA government hypocritically talks of food security and has promulgated a so-called Food Security Ordinance in an attempt to gain political mileage while flouting all norms of parliamentary democracy.”

Documents for reference:

The National Food Security Bill, 2013
The National Food Security Bill, 2011
The National Food Security Ordinance, 2013
Report of the expert committee on the national food security bill
Lok Sabha Standing Committee report on National Food Security Bill
Food subsidy and its utilisation
NRAA – Challenges of food security

Fukushima’s final emergency

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Art to honour the Fukushima 50. Illustration by 'tiger-never-die' at deviantart.com

Art to honour the Fukushima 50. Illustration by ‘tiger-never-die’ at deviantart.com

After 29 months of grave nuclear threat, all that matters now is for the world’s experts on radiation and decontamination to join forces and help fix the deadly poison streaming silently out of Fukushima. Because Japan’s political class has betrayed its people and lied to the world.

The world’s nuclear industry, the agencies of the principal nuclear powers, the reactor manufacturers and their lobbyists and financiers must cease their talk and stand aside, for they have been dealers of slow death. Now it is time for every reactor in the world – every single last nightmare nuclear pile – to begin shutting down.

This is a matter serious enough for the UN General Assembly to call an extraordinary and emergency session, and for the agenda to have two items only: (1) the immediate containment of the poison spewing out of the crippled reactors in Fukushima must be an international undertaking, (2) the safe, total and irrevocable decommissioning of all the world’s nuclear reactors must begin at once.

There is no other way. The events August 2013 alone tell us why:

Technicians work to address leaks from a tank storing highly radioactive water at the wrekced Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant on Aug. 20. Photo: The Asahi Shimbun/Hiroshi Kawai

Technicians work to address leaks from a tank storing highly radioactive water at the wrekced Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant on Aug. 20. Photo: The Asahi Shimbun/Hiroshi Kawai

August 23, 2013 – More tanks at the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant site may have leaks as Tokyo Electric Power Company, the plant operator, said on August 22 that high radiation levels were detected near a second section of storage tanks.

August 21, 2013 – Japan’s nuclear authority said on August 21 that a radioactive water leak at the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant represents a “serious incident” under an international scale, the latest blow in the struggle against contaminated water accumulating at the site.

August 19, 2013 – The operator of Japan’s crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant said on August 19 that two workers were found to be contaminated with radioactive particles, the second such incident in a week involving staff outside the site’s main operations centre.

August 14, 2013 – The Nuclear Regulation Authority, Japan’s nuclear regulator, officially approved a plan that lays out ­in detail everything from the broad road map that Fukushima Daiichi operator Tokyo Electric Power Company is following to clean up and dismantle the crippled plant.

Clean up and dismantle – but even the tiniest mistake during an operation to extract over 1,300 fuel rods at the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan could lead to a series of cascading failures with an apocalyptic outcome, fallout researcher Christina Consolo told the news website RT.

Fukushima operator TEPCO wants to extract 400 tons worth of spent fuel rods stored in a pool at the plant’s damaged Reactor No. 4. The removal would have to be done manually from the top store of the damaged building in the radiation-contaminated environment.

Radioactive water contamination graphic by Asahi Shimbun

Radioactive water contamination graphic by Asahi Shimbun

In the worst-case scenario, a mishandled rod may go critical, resulting in an above-ground meltdown releasing radioactive fallout with no way to stop it, said Consolo. But leaving the things as they are is not an option, because statistical risk of a similarly bad outcome increases every day, she said. Indeed, renowned theoretical physicist Michio Kaku stated in an interview a few weeks after the initial accident that “TEPCO is literally hanging on by their fingernails.” They still are, and always have been.

As Safecast’s blog has explained in educative detail, it is unclear whether the Japanese government has a clear plan for decontaminating Fukushima Prefecture. The questions raised are worrying indeed: “Are the aims they’ve stated really feasible? Is anyone really able to keep track of the changing standards and guidelines?” And that is why the Asahi Shimbun published a series of reports about changes in government decontamination plans, such as ‘Government secretly backtracks on Fukushima decontamination goal’. This is a situation tailor-made for abuse, and in January 2013, the Asahi Shimbun published a series of exposes detailing sloppy work practices and fraud, titled ‘Crooked Cleanup’.

Why India is ruled for its cities

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RG_urbanisation_Agenda_issue_201308Over the period 2010-20, urban India is expected to create 70% of all new jobs in India and these urban jobs will be twice as productive as equivalent jobs in the rural sector, according to ‘India’s Urban Awakening: Building Inclusive Cities, Sustaining Economic Growth’, a report by the McKinsey Global Institute in early 2010.

This material produced by a consulting company has alas become the authoritative reference for India’s central ministries and planners; but McKinsey’s slanted and misguided output is well suited to fulfil the GDP growth mania of the ruling oligarchies and their banking and corporate accomplices. Nonetheless, adopting the tone that these wished for numbers will undoubtedly be marshalled through policy measures, McKinsey has projected that the population of India’s cities will increase from 340 million in 2008 to 590 million by 2030 – 40% of India’s total population.

This is the substance of my contribution to the latest instalment of the excellent journal, Agenda, published by the Centre for Communication and Development Studies through its Infochange development news website. See the full article here.

Infochange_Agenda_urbanisation“In short,” stated the report by this reckless consulting firm, “we will witness over the next 20 years an urban transformation the scale and speed of which has not happened anywhere in the world except in China. Urbanisation will spread out across India, impacting almost every state. For the first time in India’s history, the nation will have five large states (Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Punjab) that will have more of their population living in cities than in villages.” This is indeed the trend for these states as it is also for Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal and Haryana.

The expectation is that as India’s cities expand, India’s economic profile will also change. In 1995, India’s GDP was divided almost evenly between its urban and rural economies. In 2008, urban GDP accounted for 58% of overall GDP. By 2030, according to the McKinsey report’s calculations, urban India will generate nearly 70% of India’s GDP. Such a transformation, if it comes to pass on the lines that global financial and consumer actors want, as India’s major ministries (commerce, industry, finance, food processing, agriculture) and its planning agencies want, is expected to deliver a steep increase in India’s per capita income between now and 2030 wherein the number of middle class households (earning between Rs 2 lakh and Rs 10 lakh a year) will increase from 32 million to 147 million.

Blocks of new apartments being completed on the outskirts of Chennai, Tamil Nadu. The blocks are crammed together by the builders to exploit all the available floor space without consideration for hygiene, ventilation and green space. These flat owners will install hundreds of air-conditioners in these flats to lower the indoor temperature, and this hideous group of eight and more ugly buildings will when occupied alter the micro-climate of what only recently were valuable wetlands.

Blocks of new apartments being completed on the outskirts of Chennai, Tamil Nadu. The blocks are crammed together by the builders to exploit all the available floor space without consideration for hygiene, ventilation and green space. These flat owners will install hundreds of air-conditioners in these flats to lower the indoor temperature, and this hideous group of eight and more ugly buildings will when occupied alter the micro-climate of what only recently were valuable wetlands.

This transformation is at the heart of the infrastructure and services obsession which is reshaping the next version of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM). The McKinsey estimate is that to meet urban demand, India needs to build 350-400 km of metros and subways every year, and that between 19,000-25,000 km of road lanes would need to be built every year (including lanes for bus-based rapid transit systems), an ambition that denies altogether the impacts on land resources, on the destructive dominance of the automobile industry and proves the lie of India aspiring to a low carbon way of life.

From a reading of the early results of the 66th round of the NSSO, ‘Key Indicators of Household Consumer Expenditure in India, 2009-10’, for the urban population, in all income deciles including those that comprise the urban poor, the situation is already grim. Bhiwani in Haryana (population: 197,662), Bhind in Madhya Pradesh (197,332), Amroha in Uttar Pradesh (197,135) and Hardoi also in Uttar Pradesh (197,046) are four urban centres whose populations are at the median of those towns in India whose inhabitants number over 100,000. The average number of children in each (in the 0-6-year age-group) is 23,890.

Based on the recommended daily dietary allowance calculated for an Indian vegetarian diet by the National Institute of Nutrition, India, the minimum annual demand of each of these four urban centres is: cereals and millets, 43,124 tonnes; pulses, 9,122 tonnes; milk and milk products (kilolitres), 33,172; roots and tubers, 22,115 tonnes; green leafy vegetables, 11,057 tonnes; other vegetables, 22,115 tonnes; and fruits, 11,057 tonnes. Whether through the lens of municipal services provisioning or as a consumer project, urban administrations rarely plan for the food required by their citizens – its sources, costs and alternatives that can help establish a nutrient cycle between urban consumption and rural producers.

If global food indices are descending, why are local food prices rising?

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The trends of ten international food commodity indices from 2006 onwards.

The trends of ten international food commodity indices from 2006 onwards.

The main chart plots the course of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Food Price Index and nine other international food price indices. These are FAO’s cereals index, the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) food index, the International Grains Council (IGC) wheat index, the IGC’s rice index, the UN Conference on Trade and Development’s (UNCTAD) two wheat indices, Unctad’s rice index, the World Bank’s (WB) food index and WB’s grains index.

Consumer price index trends 2006 to 2013 for five South Asian countries

Consumer price index trends 2006 to 2013 for five South Asian countries

The familiar FAO blue pair for 2013 August

The familiar FAO blue pair for 2013 August

On the main chart, after 2008 December four stages are marked. The first stage is 2008 December to 2010 July, when the indices describe a plateau but which is very much higher than where they were through 2006. The second stage is 2010 July to 2011 April, which corresponds to the second global food price rise and when all these indices rose in concert. The third stage is 2011 April to 2012 September when they all declined to another plateau which nonetheless is higher overall than the last one (stage one), but which rose steeply for a short while towards the end of the stage. The fourth stage is still current, from 2012 June, which is seeing a gradual decline in all the indices to the point they were in 2011 August-September.

I have appended to the main chart the counterpoint of the consumer price indexes from South Asian countries – Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan and India. The question that follows, when reading the main chart with ten indices and the CPI chart for South Asia, is why the CPI trends do not follow the international grains trends. One of the major factors (which charting this data cannot reveal, as the FAO Food Price Index does not) is the extent to which the industrialisation of prmary crops sets the retail price in the markets of Colombo or Chittagong or Karachi or Mumbai or Kathmandu. Primary crop – that is, cereals, pulses, fruit and vegetable, milk and dairy – is being moved internally, processed, packaged, moved again, retailed in modern convenience stores to a much greater degree than was the case a decade ago. Those costs lie outside what the FAO-IGC-IMF-Unctad-WB indices can describe. But we need to urgently – within these countries and as a group – share methods to gauge and monitor these costs and document their impacts on households.

An Indian cereals quartet from 1969

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India_agri_map_1969_coarse_cereals_detail

A cereals quartet mapped in great detail from 1969 – ragi in the old Mysore state (top left), barley in eastern Uttar Pradesh (top right), bajra in Maharashtra (bottom left), and jowar in Madhya Pradesh (bottom right).

I have taken the details from the lovely set of maps in the Indian Agricultural Atlas (the third edition) of 1969, which was printed at the time by the Survey of India (which provided the base maps). It cost, in those days, 90 rupees which was a small fortune, but little wonder, for the mapwork is superior.

India_agri_map_1969_coarse_cereals_panel

Written by makanaka

August 4, 2013 at 15:29

Sizing up the deadly and fake nuclear renaissance

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Two excellent resources to point to for those who want to shut down reactors and bury nuclear power once and for all. The first is ‘Quietly Into Disaster – A Plea For Survival’, a film well worth your while. It deals with facts and topics concerning nuclear fission: the damage done to health and environment, nuclear waste and politics, renewable energies, reactor safety, the serious implications of a nuclear accident and public resistance.

The second is the World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2013 which provides a global overview of the history, the current status and the trends of nuclear power programmes worldwide. It examines nuclear reactor units in operation and under construction, includes an update on nuclear economics as well as an overview of the status, on-site and off-site, of the challenges triggered by the Fukushima disaster.

Nuclear Power Reactor Grid Connections and Shutdowns, 1956–2013. Source: World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2013 / IAEA-PRIS, MSC, 2013

Nuclear Power Reactor Grid Connections and Shutdowns, 1956–2013. Source: World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2013 / IAEA-PRIS, MSC, 2013

The Report has noted that:

“For various reasons in many nations, the nuclear industry cannot tell the truth about its progress, its promise or its perils. Its backers in government and in academia do no better.”

“During the rise and fall of the bubble formerly known as “the nuclear renaissance” in the U.S. many of their tools have been on full display. Academic and governmental studies a decade ago understated the likely cost of new reactors and overstated their potential contribution to fighting climate change.”

“Where the authors introduce judgment, they explain what they have done and why. The Report has a track record stretching back years. It is much better than the embarrassing exuberances of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the World Nuclear Association or the pronouncements of most national governments.”

“In short, the nuclear renaissance has always consisted entirely of the number of reactors whose excess costs governments were prepared to make mandatory for either customers or taxpayers.”

Written by makanaka

August 3, 2013 at 15:56