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Archive for October 2013

Scientists’ statement deflates the bogus idea of ‘safe’ GM

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ENSSER_GMO_statement_10More scientists, physicians and legal experts have signed the group statement issued by the European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility (ENSSER) on the safety of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The number of initial signatories to the statement, titled ‘No scientific consensus on GMO safety’, was almost 100 on the day it was released, 2013 October 21, and has more than doubled since.

The ENSSER group has reminded us that crop genetic engineering is dominated not by ecological experts but by molecular biologists: “Many are not knowledgeable about ecological risks and – more importantly – they fail to recognise the limitations of their expertise.”

ENSSER_GMO_statement_13Regarding the environmental risk of GM crops, ENSSER has said, the negative effects now documented empirically have been predicted since about 25 years.

For instance, while naturally occurring Bt toxins come in a diversity of variants, GM crops necessarily have to choose one Bt toxin to be transferred, significantly enhancing the probability of resistance development. Such effects are analysed by community ecology researchers and not visible on the genetic level.

“So it is a shame that, more than 20 years after the international academic societies of ecologists and molecular biologists agreed on the complementarity of their competences, and the necessity to assess ecosystem impacts in a systemic fashion, today’s molecular biologists still do neither recognise nor respect the limits of their competencies (not to speak about the influence of funding). Ignoring one’s own blind spots is what can turn science into a social risk.”

ENSSER_GMO_statement_11Those who have signed the statement “strongly reject claims by GM seed developers and some scientists, commentators, and journalists that there is a ‘scientific consensus’ on GMO safety and that the debate on this topic is ‘over’.”

The signatories have said they “feel compelled to issue this statement because the claimed consensus on GMO safety does not exist. The claim that it does exist is misleading and misrepresents the currently available scientific evidence and the broad diversity of opinion among scientists on this issue. Moreover, the claim encourages a climate of complacency that could lead to a lack of regulatory and scientific rigour and appropriate caution, potentially endangering the health of humans, animals, and the environment”.

ENSSER_GMO_statement_16ENSSER members and non-members alike who have signed the statement have collectively said that science and society do not proceed on the basis of a constructed consensus, as current knowledge is always open to well-founded challenge and disagreement. They endorse the need for further independent scientific inquiry and informed public discussion on GM product safety and urge GM proponents to do the same.

Regarding the safety of GM crops and foods for human and animal health, a comprehensive review of animal feeding studies of GM crops found that most studies concluding that GM foods were as safe and nutritious as those obtained by conventional breeding were “performed by biotechnology companies or associates, which are also responsible [for] commercialising these GM plants”.

ENSSER_GMO_statement_12It is often claimed that “trillions of GM meals” have been eaten in the US with no ill effects. However, no epidemiological studies in human populations have been carried out to establish whether there are any health effects associated with GM food consumption. As GM foods are not labelled in North America, a major producer and consumer of GM crops, it is scientifically impossible to trace, let alone study, patterns of consumption and their impacts. Therefore, claims that GM foods are safe for human health based on the experience of North American populations have no scientific basis.

ENSSER_GMO_statement_15A report by the British Medical Association concluded that with regard to the long-term effects of GM foods on human health and the environment, “many unanswered questions remain” and that “safety concerns cannot, as yet, be dismissed completely on the basis of information currently available”. The report called for more research, especially on potential impacts on human health and the environment.

ENSSER_GMO_statement_14Likewise, a statement by the American Medical Association’s Council on Science and Public Health acknowledged “a small potential for adverse events … due mainly to horizontal gene transfer, allergenicity, and toxicity” and recommended that the current voluntary notification procedure practised in the US prior to market release of GM crops be made mandatory. The ENSSER group has said that even a “small potential for adverse events” may turn out to be significant, given the widespread exposure of human and animal populations to GM crops.

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India’s food price inflation is no surprise

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Reports on the new evidence of price increases for staple foods in India have evoked surprise and a variety of responses from economic analysts. Reuters has reported that inflation “unexpectedly hit a seven-month high in September as food prices climbed” because the “wholesale price index (WPI), the main inflation measure, climbed to 6.46 percent last month”.

If tomato, potato and onion show the behaviour of all vegetable prices, the new food inflation peak is no surprise at all.

If tomato, potato and onion show the behaviour of all vegetable prices, the new food inflation peak is no surprise at all.

Supplied by the views from the financial markets and industry sources, and supported by a government position of prices and food supply that is predictably optimistic, reports in the mass media claim that inflation is expected to come down in coming months.

Business Standard reported that “the simultaneous rise in WPI- and CPI-based inflation in September can be explained by the lag effect of rising food prices on consumer prices. The newspaper quoted a chief economist of the State Bank of India who said: “Consumer price inflation is correcting the huge gap we had witnessed in food items at retail and wholesale levels in the previous months.” It also quoted an economist with a credit rating agency, CARE Ratings, who said the divergent trend in July and August could be explained by the fact that retailers couldn’t increase prices at the same rate as wholesalers and, therefore, had to squeeze their margins.

The Hindu reported that “headline inflation unexpectedly touched a seven-month of 6.46 in September riding on the back of a whopping 323 per cent increase in price of onion followed by all round hike in price of other fruit and vegetable items”. This newspaper said that the latest data released by the government on Monday put the food inflation at 18.40 per cent in September over the same month last year.

The three pairs of charts you see here describe the prices of tomato, potato and onion as recorded by the retail price monitoring cell of the Department of Consumer Affairs, Ministry of Food and Consumer Affairs, Government of India. The cell collects retail prices of 22 food items from 57 urban centres, and these are the monthly averages from 2009 January to 2013 September.

The monitoring cell does not collect the prices of common vegetables (such as brinjal, cauliflower or pumpkin) or leafy green vegetables, hence these will serve as indicative proxies that describe the movements of vegetable prices in Indian urban retail food markets over the measured period.

The charts with the full set of price trendlines for all 57 centres are dense to look at, hence I have simplified them to three trendlines each: an average, the price of the 80th percentile of the centres, and the price of the 20th percentile of the centres. Doing so helps preserve the overall trend over the period measured and also helps more clearly display the difference between the upper and lower bounds of the variation in price amongst the set of urban centres.

The tomato chart shows periodic spikes from mid-2010 however the peak of 2013 July dwarfs all others. The potato chart shows the previous peak being during 2009 October, but in terms of the persistence of high price the period from 2012 August till the present is the longest since 2009 January. The onion chart records the previous spike during 2010 December to 2011 January, which has been topped during the current spike that began in 2013 June.

The tale of the charts is that even for items that go through cycles, like vegetables, the overall trend is upwards and this upward trend is at a rate faster than the wage increases for agricultural and rural labour, for those working in the informal urban sector, and is a rate that is only partly offset by any dearness allowance (if that old mechanism is still used).

For all those who are said to be knowledgeable on food price and the causes of inflation – the ministries of agriculture, of commerce and of food processing, the industry associations, the bankers and financiers, the food and retail industry – the current food inflation spike is no surprise at all, it was expected as the festival season has begun. The difference now is that with every such season, the new base price for our food staples is pushed to higher level, further squeezing household budgets that are not reinforced by bonuses.

The cereals, oils and sugars have been far more predictable in their rise for the last five years. Their price rise in inevitable given the growth of the retail food industry, the processed foods industry, the rise in the price of fuel, and the rise on the prices of fertiliser and pesticides. Just as the so-called ‘carrying cost’ of PDS foodgrain is derided as being inefficient by the private sector, they too bear a carrying cost – inventory of processed food and inventory of primary crop used for such food – which is concealed in the price the consumer pays.

It is only local food networks that choose organic crops, supply locally and insulate themselves from the organised food profiteers that can free themselves from the pain of India’s steadily rising food price inflation.

The big money in India’s cities

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Almost seven out of ten rupees banked in India are to be found in the top 100 centres. They account for 68.5% of the total bank deposits in India.

Almost seven out of ten rupees banked in India are to be found in the top 100 centres. They account for 68.5% of the total bank deposits in India.

The concentration of the country’s bank deposits in India’s urban centres can be seen in this detail from a table I have assembled using data from the Reserve Bank of India (RBI).

This is the quarterly series that the RBI puts out and is called ‘Quarterly Statistics on Deposits and Credit of Scheduled Commercial Banks’.

The intriguing table which forms the image is of the top 100 urban centres ranked by bank deposits, and arranged alphabetically, for the years 2007, 2009, 2011 and 2013. The city names and total deposits (in crore rupees) are seen. This is the lower end of the table, and I have coloured ten cities to show how their deposits have changed over six years.

The rate of growth has been extremely steep. We have here Panaji, Patiala, Pune, Ranchi, Shillong, Thane, Thiruvananthapuram, Udaipur, Varanasi and Visakhapatnam for no reason other than their entries for all four years are visible. The patterns for the rest of the top 100 centres is generally the same.

For these ten cities, the average growth rate of their total bank deposits over these six years is 190%! This is most significant to us, especially considering the food inflation, the cost of cultivation, wage rates of agricultural labour and allied issues I write about in this diary. Have the wage rates for agricultural labour grown over these last six years at even one-third this average rate? Not at all.

RG-bank_urban_deposits_detailFrom this small set of ten cities alone, the lowest rate of growth of total bank deposits is 88% (Vishakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh) and the highest is 249% (Thane in Maharashtra).

The progression of the size of total deposits can be seen from Shillong (in Meghalaya) from Rs 2,577 crore in 2007 to Rs 8,311 crore in 2013 (which is dwarfed by the others). In Ranchi (Jharkhand) total bank deposits have grown from Rs 6,436 crore in 2007 to Rs 21,688 crore in 2013!

That is why the top 100 centres accounted for 68.5% of the total bank deposits in India – this is a ratio that has remained roughly the same for the last six years. In addition, as the ‘Quarterly Statistics’ has noted in its highlights, the top 100 centres also accounted for 76.9% of total bank credit.

And that is why it means little for central and state governments, and for businesses and NGOs and social entrepreneurships to talk about ‘financial inclusion’ when we have proof – quarter after quarter – of the persistence of financial inequality between India and Bharat.

Appraising World Food Day 2013

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FAO-world_food_day_2013It must be difficult to be a senior official in the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the UN these days, especially if the official is above 40 years old and has spent the last two decades working “in the field” (which usually means away from some capital city somewhere, in discomfort that is amusingly relative to most of us proletarian toilers). For, I do think that there is still a majority of folk in the FAO who care about their work and the aims of the organisation, muddled though these get when 190-odd member states each bring their own version of reality (and ambition) into the proceedings.

More difficult it is nowadays in an FAO that is being shepherded more closely into the embrace of the OECD, the World Bank-International Monetary Fund, World Trade Organisation embrace, with its murmuring old boys’ clubs all shadowy in their suits, adept at facilitating the trade of political positions for corporate board seats. And more difficult it is nowadays in an FAO that is scrutinised every day by NGOs and civil society groups that have successfully ensured that negotiations called ‘multi-lateral’ must be open before public gaze and can no longer hide behind empty principles when hunger – FAO’s single problem – stalks the planet.

Perhaps that is one reason why the FAO has called this year’s World Food Day ‘Sustainable Food Systems for Food Security and Nutrition’ – and notice the addition of ‘nutirion’, there’s no getting away from the N-word these days, so loaded has it become. The theme, to borrow from the typically bland FAO pronouncement, “gives focus to World Food Day observances and helps increase understanding of problems and solutions in the drive to end hunger”. Well said, for the umpteenth time.

Via_Campesina_food_sovereigntyBut there have been departures from the corporate script lately which are surprising. On 2013 October 04 the Director General of FAO, José Graziano da Silva, formalised a tie with La Via Campesina, recognising it as the most important voice of small food producers worldwide. This is seen by Campesina as “yet another welcome step in a series of ongoing reforms of the FAO, which have created a unique and unprecedented space to collaborate with civil society and democratize the arena of global food policy”. Easier wished for than done, as Campesina well knows, because the financiers and bankers, agri-commodity trading oligopolies and mafioso, the crooked politicians in the European Union and their willing partners in the ‘developing’ world are not going to quietly let this happen.

These reforms are aimed at giving the FAO not just more political legitimacy by becoming more inclusive, but also at reviving it as the cornerstone for international cooperation in the area of food security, starting to take such policy decisions out of the hands of the World Bank (WB) or the World Trade Organization (WTO.) While these developments are welcome, the global peasants’ movement remains realistic about the amount of energy that should be put into the UN, maintaining its greatest strength on the ground mobilizing farmers and building alternatives.

The IFPRI Global Hunger Index 2013 world map, blatantly patronising in its North-South exclusion. The white areas are not even in the map legend. They correspond to the OECD/'industrialised' world, and the IFPRI/CGIAR view is that the chronic mis-nutrition of western societies has no place in a report on global hunger. Nor does this map consider the growing effects of working class poverty in the OECD countries.

The IFPRI Global Hunger Index 2013 world map, blatantly patronising in its North-South exclusion. The white areas are not even in the map legend. They correspond to the OECD/’industrialised’ world, and the IFPRI/CGIAR view is that the chronic mis-nutrition of western societies has no place in a report on global hunger. Nor does this map consider the growing effects of working class poverty in the OECD countries.

In 2012, at the 39th session of FAO’s Committee on Food Security (CFS), the G20 approached the CFS and asked the Committee to agree with what it said on price volatility in agricultural commodities, which since 2007 has dragged tens of millions of households in South and North into hunger and debt. When that happened, and when a compromised CFS agreed, the civil society delegation to the session walked out. The NGOs, social movements, representatives of peasants’ federations and associations who were present had, on the contrary, demanded strong regulation of the commodity futures markets that fuel price volatility and the food insecurity of the poorest. But the G20 (and that means the investors in a global agribusiness industry) won that round.

With the help of the CGIAR, what for the sake of convenience we call the G20 will want to win every time. The CGIAR is the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research which runs 15 centres around the world that are described as “independent, non-profit research organizations, innovating on behalf of poor people in developing countries” and as being “home to almost 10,000 scientists, researchers, technicians, and staff working to create a better future for the world’s poor”. The descriptions about ‘independent’, ‘non-profit’ and ‘for the poor’ are lies, as they have been for every single one of the 40 years of this plague called the CGIAR. But the CGIAR system is large, powerful, almost invisible and little understood except by those in agricultural research systems (such as those in the Indian Council of Agricultural Research) in ‘developing’ countries.

And that is why the release, a few days ago, of the ‘Global Hunger Index’ 2013 needs to be interpreted for what it is, because it is the product of one of the CGIAR centres, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). The annual index offers a ranking of hunger, or food insecurity/security for many countries but not all (see the image of the map and its caption). The IFPRI functions worldwide as a motivated think-tank that commissions carefully scripted research to fulfil pre-determined outputs that serve the interests of those who profit from the industrial agricultural system and retail food system.

That such an obvious fifth column finds residence and a willing ear in India ought to be a matter of shame to us. Here is a small example why. The IFPRI, in the 2013 Global Hunger Index, has distributed its ‘recommendations’ which are from the typical neo-liberal charter of subjugation of the working classes and the denial of choice, all camouflagued by whichever development jargon is found to be currently in vogue.

The cover of the Global Hunger Index 2013 report. Read the recommendations to grasp why this has been released, ignore the data.

The cover of the Global Hunger Index 2013 report. Read the recommendations to grasp why this has been released, ignore the data.

Hence “broader policy coherence for development is also a key requirement for efforts to strengthen resilience. Policies that undermine resilience must be revised. To foster resilience to undernutrition, policies should be designed with the intention of improving nutrition outcomes and realising the right to adequate food” in fact means – do away with policies that still see a role for the state and the public sector, hide this behind trendy concepts like ‘resilience’ and ‘right to food’, but include nutrition (which I mentioned earlier) because that is the route the MNCs have successfully used.

Hence “encourage and facilitate a multisectoral approach to resilience (as the Scaling Up Nutrition movement encourages a multisectoral approach to nutrition, for example), coordinating plans and programs across line ministries” in fact means – phase out your thinking and replace it with ours, which comes with a United Nations endorsement and which places private business at the centre of policy and its implementation.

Hence “adjust policies and strategies that undermine the resilience of poor and vulnerable groups, such as the low import tariffs or the structural neglect of smallholder agriculture in Haiti” in fact means – remove barriers to food imports, stop subsidies and subventions that the poor, marginalised and vulnerable have a right to in your country (consider the ruckus the World Trade Organisation has been making about India’s new National Food Security Act) and spout righteous claptrap about ‘neglect’.

Hence “ensure that policies and programs draw on a wide range of expertise such as collaborative, multiagency, and multisectoral problem analysis. National governments should support the emergence of multistakeholder platforms and make active use of such forums” in fact means – the expertise will be foreign and provided by the CGIAR and its numerous allies in all garbs, these ‘multi’ platforms will be public showcases to conceal an agenda already set.

[The full IFPRI Global Hunger Index 2013 report is here. The ‘issue brief is here’ for those who want a condensed dose of dangerous neo-liberal vitamins. And the obligatory data set used to support the well-set arguments is here.]

There is no comparison between the IFPRI propaganda and the annual report of the Right to Food and Nutrition Watch 2013, the sixth edition of which was released in 2014 October. The Watch identifies a number of policies that generate hunger and malnutrition instead of reducing them. The Watch insists on the need for meaningful participation – at every level – of people and communities in the development of those public policies which affect their lives.

You will find here national case studies and analysis that show (1) policies that foster violence and discrimination against women with regard to equal access to natural resources, inheritances, equal wages and political decision-making, (2) policies that systematically limit and exclude large groups, including peasants, agricultural workers, fisherfolks, pastoralists and indigenous peoples from participating in those decisions that affect their very livelihoods and (3) policies on a global level that facilitate land grabbing, concentrated ownership of natural resources and the commodification of public goods that deprive smallholders and other people of their food resources.

India marches against Monsanto, hauls it back into court

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The anti-GM and anti-Monsanto protest in Bangalore outside the Town Hall on 2013 October 15

The anti-GM and anti-Monsanto protest in Bangalore outside the Town Hall on 2013 October 15

This is an important week for the public movement in India against genetically-modified seed and food, and against the corporate control of agriculture. Just ahead of World Food Day 2013, the Coalition for GM Free India has held public protests, marches and events in major cities – Bangalore, Mumbai, New Delhi, Thiruvananthapuram and Chennai.

“Today, India is also under threat from the hazardous products that Monsanto wants to profiteer from – these are products that affect the very food that we eat to survive and stay healthy and our environment. These are products that have the potential to jeopardise future generations too,” said the Coalition at the protest meetings and marches.

These actions have come when, in a very significant ruling by the High Court of Karnataka, a petition to dispose criminal prosecution of the Monsanto subsidiary in India, representatives of an agricultural university and a partner company, has been dismissed.

RG-Monsanto_BLR_protest_10Mahyco-Monsanto, the Indian seed company, the University of Agricultural Sciences Dharwad (which is in the state of Karnataka), and Monsanto collaborating partners Sathguru Consultants were accused by the National Biodiversity Authority and the Karnataka State Biodiversity Board of committing serious criminal acts of biopiracy in promoting B.t. Brinjal, India’s first food GMO.

The Bangalore-based Environment Support Group (ESG) had said to the court that the entire process by which the product had been developed violated the Biological Diversity Act, 2002, and the Convention on Biological Diversity, 1992, and “constituted an outrageous act of biopiracy of India’s endemic brinjal (eggplant) varieties”.

To substantiate this charge, the ESG produced evidence that all the endemic varieties of brinjal that had been accessed by the University of Agricultural Sciences Dharwad and Monsanto-Mahyco, with technical support from Sathguru Consultants and USAID, and the act of inserting the B.t. gene (a proprietary product of Monsanto), were undertaken without any consent of local Biodiversity Management Committees, the State Biodiversity Board and the National Biodiversity Authority.

As the Coalition for GM Free India has pointed out repeatedly, Monsanto’s misdeeds in India and its growing threat to food security and the right to food cultivation and consumption choices are considerable:
* Mahyco-Monsanto used its Bt cotton seed monopoly to set exorbitant prices. The Andhra Pradesh government had to use the MRTP (Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices) Commission, which observed that Monsanto-Mahyco was using unfair trade practices in India, while asking the company to reduce the royalty/sub-licensing fee being charged in India.
* Monsanto-Mahyco did not hesitate to sue governments in India on issues related to compensation for loss-incurring farmers or price-regulation.
* After the advent of Bt cotton, Monsanto entered into licensing agreements with most seed companies in India so that out of 22.5 million acres of GM cotton, 21 million acres is planted with its seed, Bollgard. Today it controls nearly 93% of the market share of cotton seeds in India, with little choice left to farmers.
* Monsanto is on the Board of the Indo-US Knowledge Initiative in Agriculture, under which bio-safety regime for GM crops was sought to be weakened.
* Monsanto entered into agreements with several states (Rajasthan, Orissa, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir) under which the states spend hundreds of crore rupees of public funds every year to purchase hybrid maize seeds from them. Such agreements were found to have no scientific or funding rationale to support them. Appraisals have shown these to be risky for farmers. However, the corporation has found huge, ready markets supported by taxpayers’ funds!
* Monsanto is pushing the sales of its herbicide glyphosate which is known to cause reproductive problems. Approval for its herbicide-tolerant GM crops would skyrocket the use of this hazardous chemical in our fields.

The action in court and on the streets of major cities must be recognised by the central and state governments in order to pursue the criminal prosecution against biopiracy in B.t. brinjal. This is critical, said the ESG, because it is for the “first time that India has sought to implement the provisions of the Biodiversity Act tackling biopiracy, and thus the effort constitutes a major precedent to secure India’s bio-resources, associated traditional knowledge and biodiversity for the benefit of present and future generations”.

Preparing for Cyclone Phailin

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RG-Phailin-eastern_India_rain_peak_201310Update4: The water carried over land by Cyclone Phaillin has now travelled northwards and west. Daily monsoon system monitoring by the Centre for Ocean-Land-Atmosphere Studies – COLA (a scientific research centre to improve understanding and prediction of Earth’s climate variations) now show the danger from very heavy rain to districts in interior Odisha, eastern Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh.

The soil moisture in these regions is already high – as it should be at the end of the south-west monsoon – and very heavy spells of rain approaching 20mm in three hours will cause widespread flooding. The National Disaster Management Authority and the armed forces will continue to have to be on the alert for flood-related rescue calls from these regions.

Update3: It is very worrying to find that:

(a) satellite images shared by a global meteorological community are showing that Cyclone Phailin crossed the Indian coast between 1800 and 1900 (6pm and 7pm) but until well after 1900 (7pm) the Indian Meteorological Department told television news channels it was still approaching, and

The NOAA image dated 12 October 2013 and timed at 1400 UTC which shows the eye of Phailin having crossed the Indian coast in Srikakulam district, Andhra Pradesh.

The NOAA image dated 12 October 2013 and timed at 1400 UTC which shows the eye of Phailin having crossed the Indian coast in Srikakulam district, Andhra Pradesh.

(b) that hourly data from the automated weather stations on the eastern coast are not visible – no explanation as to whether they had been knocked out by the cyclonic conditions or whether the data links were down.

Update2: The armed forces and para-military and disaster relief and rescue teams are reported to be ready. Two Indian Air Force IL-76 aircraft have taken teams and equipment to Bhubaneshwar, Odisha. The Indian Air Force is on stand-by at various bases including Raipur, Nagpur, Jagdalpur, Barrackpore, Ranchi and Gwalior. At least 28 teams of the National Disaster Response Forces have been mobilised.

Fishermen moving fishing boats (above) to safe places following a warning about Phailin cyclone in Srikakulam district. Photo: The Hindu/Basheer. The Phailin data sheet at IST 1100 on the Tropical Storm Risk website (below).

Fishermen moving fishing boats (above) to safe places following a warning about Phailin cyclone in Srikakulam district. Photo: The Hindu/Basheer. The Phailin data sheet at IST 1100 on the Tropical Storm Risk website (below).

The East Coast Railway has cancelled or re-scheduled passenger trains between Visakhapatnam and Bhadrak on the Howrah-Chennai Main Line route, PTI News has reported. Among these trains are Puri-Cuttack-Puri passenger, Paradeep-Cuttack passenger, Cuttack-Paradeep passenger, Puri-Gunupur-Puri passenger, Puri-Rourkela passenger, Puri-Cuttack passenger, Bhadrak-Cuttack-Bhadrak passenger and Cuttack-Palasa-Cuttack passenger trains.

PTI News has reported that Odisha has opened control rooms for the cyclone. The helpline number of the Odisha Central Control Room is 0674-2534177
The district control room numbers are: Mayurbhanj 06792-252759, Jajpur 06728-222648, Gajapati 06815-222943, Dhenkanal 06762-221376, Khurda 06755-220002, Keonjhar 06766-255437, Cuttack 0671-2507842, Ganjam 06811-263978, Puri 06752-223237, Kendrapara 06727-232803, Jagatsinghpur 06724-220368, Balasore 06782-262674, Bhadrak 06784-251881.

In Odisha, 200 trained ham radio operators have been put on alert to help with rescue work. Eight stations have been put on ‘active alert’ while there are 28 stations as back-up around India.

Via Twitter:
Google Person Finder has readied a service in response to cyclone Phailin to help find friends and loved ones (thanks to @GautamGhosh)
Phailin is forecast to strike at IST 1730 (5.30 pm) local time. Trust Foundation has a status page (thanks to @nitabhalla)

Also consult the Tropical Storm Risk site for frequent updates on the course and strength of Phailin.

Update1: For those in coastal Odisha and Andhra Pradesh, check TV and radio broadcasts for weather alerts and conditions in your district for as long as there is electricity. The government weather websites – India Meteorological Department and Mausam – have become very unresponsive probably due to high traffic.

Use the #Phailin hashtag on Twitter to find news and alerts near where you are. See useful examples like these:
Odisha Control Room numbers: Ganjam 06811-263978; Puri 06752-223237; Kendrapara 06727-232803 (thanks for this info to @aditya_manocha )
@debasis3: “Here we go. Rains have started in Bhubaneswar”
More Odisha Control Room numbers: Balasore 06782-262674; Bhadrak 06784-251881; Mayurbhanj 06792-252759; Jajpur 06728-222648 (thanks for this info to @ketan72 )

A new map of Phailin and its possible pathways from the Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System (GDACS)

A new map of Phailin and its possible pathways from the Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System (GDACS)

Important advice from the National Disaster Management Authority of India – If you are in the cyclone danger zone: check the house; secure loose tiles. remove dead wood or dry branches close to the house. Anchor movable objects like piles of wood, tin sheets (these are deadly when sent flying during a cyclone), loose bricks, rubbish bins (whose lids can fly like dangerous missiles in high wind), unbolted sign-boards.

Keep a few wooden boards, nails and a hammer ready to board up glass windows if they are in danger of shattering inwards. Keep emergency lighting ready. Ensure mobile phones are charged. Keep battery-operated torches ready batteries handy. Store boiled or filtered water for drinking. Keep dry food (such as biscuits) at hand if conditions worsen and you can’t cook a hot meal.

Zee News (television and online) has reported that in Odisha “thousands flee to shelter homes stocked with emergency food supplies and medicines”. National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) teams have reached Bhubaneswar (capital of Odisha) as evacuations have begun in Odisha and north Andhra Pradesh. Union Defence Minister A K Antony has asked armed forces to be ready to move in to Odisha and Andhra Pradesh.

NDTV (television and online) has reported that five districts “are preparing for the worst impact of the cyclone: Srikakulam in Andhra Pradesh and Ganjam, Puri, Khordha and Jagatsinghapur in Odisha.” Helicopters and food packages are ready for areas that are likely to be worst hit. A minister in the Andhra Pradesh state government has reportedly said that 64,000 people are being evacuated from Srikakulam, Vishakhapatnam and Vizianagaram and are being shifted to cyclone shelters.

The forecast six-day path of cyclone Phailin.

The forecast six-day path of cyclone Phailin.

The state of Odisha is preparing for Cyclone Phailin as it approaches from the Bay of Bengal. Consult the new map of Phailin and its possible pathways from the Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System (GDACS).

My reading of the forecast path of the cyclone – using the map sets from the National Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting (Earth System Science Organisation, Ministry of Earth Sciences) – is that in Odisha the districts of Ganjam, Puri, Jagatsinghpur, Kendrapara, Bhadrak, Baleshwar, Kordha, Jajapur, Cuttack, Nayagarh and Gajapati will be in the cyclone’s path beginning with increasingly heavy rain and fierce winds from Saturday morning 12 October 2013; in Andhra Pradesh the districts of Srikakulam, Vizianagaram and Visakhapatnam and in West Bengal the districts of Purba Medinipur will be in the cyclone’s path.

RG-Cyclone_Phailin_day3_sectionThe series of stacked rainfall forecast maps above show the approach of Cyclone Phailin from 11 October.

Look for the deep blue circle in the left panel from the first pair (top left, 24 hours) – extending out ahead of the cyclone core is the rain storm, which will cross the northern coast of Andhra Pradesh. In the second pair (top middle, 48 hours), the blue circle has moved closer to the coast – rainfall from the vast gyre of clouds around the approaching cyclone will extend far inland, in a great spike through Andhra Pradesh, parts of Madhya Pradesh and north into western Uttar Pradesh.

In the third pair (top right, 72 hours), the cyclone has made landfall with Odisha in the centre and affected districts in Andhra Pradesh to the south and West Bengal to the north – this is when the disaster management teams in the districts will be taxed to the utmost, having already been battered by heavy rain and unrelenting high-speed winds for two days.

RG-cyclone_districts_20131011In the fourth pair (lower left, 96 hours) the cyclone is still very active as it moves north-west to sweep across Odisha. In the fifth pair (lower middle, 120 hours) the cyclone core has finally weakened (no longer coloured deep blue) but has moved into Jharkhand, Bihar, West Bengal and eastern Uttar Pradesh. In the sixth pair (lower right, 144 hours) the cyclone’s force has dissipated leaving rain in its wake across eastern India.

Orissa Dairy has reported (‘Phailin upgraded to super cyclone’): “The very severe cyclonic storm Phailin, expected to make landfall at Gopalpur in Odisha, moved closer to the state and lay about 600 km southeast of Paradip, as the government sought the help of defence forces to boost its preparedness, official sources said on Thursday night.”

RG-Cyclone_Phailin_day4_sectionThe Hindustan Times has reported (‘Cyclone Phailin: deep depression over Bay of Bengal intensifies further’): “A morning bulletin of Bhubaneswar meteorological department on Friday said the cyclone would move north-westward and cross Andhra Pradesh and Odisha coast between Kalingapatam (Andhra Pradesh) and Paradip, close to Gopalpur, by Saturday evening as a very severe cyclonic storm with a maximum sustained speed of 205-215km per hour.”

DNA has reported (‘Odisha braces for Cyclone Phailin’): “The state government said it was making adequate preparation to deal with the disaster that expects to cause large scale devastation mostly in state’s coastal southern districts. Durga puja festivities in Odisha have been cancelled as the state prepares for Cyclone Phailin which could be the worst since 1999 when 10,000 people died. The Air Force, Navy and national disaster management team have already been put on stand-by, while the rapid action force has deployed its forces on the ground. People in the low lying areas of the state will be evacuated by Saturday evening.”

Counting the Indian land mosaic

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India continues to be fed by its marginal and small farmers. Their holdings (those below two hectares) taken together account for 84.97% of total holdings in 2010-11 compared with 83.29% in 2005-06; the combined area under these myriad farmed plots is 44.31% of the country's total farmed area (it was 41.14% in the 2005-06 census).

India continues to be fed by its marginal and small farmers. Their holdings (those below two hectares) taken together account for 84.97% of total holdings in 2010-11 compared with 83.29% in 2005-06; the combined area under these myriad farmed plots is 44.31% of the country’s total farmed area (it was 41.14% in the 2005-06 census).

India’s Agriculture Census is the largest statistical survey done by the Ministry of Agriculture, which collects data on what the ministry calls “the structural profile of Indian agriculture”. Starting with the first in 1970-71 there have been eight such censuses and the ninth is under way.

The chart illustrates one aspect – a vitally important one – of the first phase of the census (which collects a list of all the agricultural holdings and includes area, gender, social group of the holder, its location code). The classifications of the size of farmed land-holdings are: marginal is up to one hectare, small is one to two hectares, semi-medium is two to four hectares, medium is four to ten hectares, large is ten hectares and more.

The Agriculture Census 2010-11 (Phase-I), All-India report on number and area of operational holdings(provisional) by the Agriculture Census Division, Department Of Agriculture and Co-operation, Ministry Of Agriculture, Government Of India (that’s the full, official and imposing title of the gigantic exercise) has told us, so far, that the numbers of marginal and small holdings continues to rise with every agricultural census (every five years, but the periodicity is less regular).

Some of the most salient findings so far from the 2010-11 census: the total number of farmed plots in India has increased from 129 million in 2005-06 to 138 million 2010-11; there is a small increase in the farmed land area from 158.32 million hectares in 2005-06 to 159.18 million hectares in 2010-11; the average size of a farmed land-holding has declined to 1.16 hectares in 2010-11 compared with 1.23 hectares in 2005-06.

Finally some good news from the IMF

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The Dalai Lama at the IMF? Not at all, but we think he would like the IMF's new de-growth manifesto and would be delighted if all macro-economists turned vegetarian. Photo: Courtesy the official website of His Holiness The 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet

The Dalai Lama at the IMF? Not at all, but we think he would like the IMF’s new de-growth manifesto and would be delighted if all macro-economists turned vegetarian. Photo: Courtesy the official website of His Holiness The 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet <http://www.dalailama.com/&gt;

The first signs of the long-awaited change in thinking at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) can now be seen in the World Economic Outlook report. This routine blatherfest, which is issued by the IMF’s slick-but-barmy public relations department, is unremarkable on every occasion and the only reason you’d want to punish yourself by plodding through the 500-odd pages of this ode to deforestation is to admire the very latest chic for presenting boring graphs and charts. But this time, it’s as if a Buddhist rinpoche has edited the manuscript.

What’s changed and why? For the year 2013 the IMF has said that ‘global output’ (output of what, you may well ask, but do hold your horses) to expand 2.9% instead of the 3.1% it had, in an unsporting manner, forecast this July. Between that monsoon month and this one some heads must’ve rolled at the IMF (many more to follow suit I hope) because now the IMF has taken a firm long stride towards its manifest destiny: bringing about the no-growth economy.

However, some die-hard lumpens are still doing their best to rally growth insurrectionists to their tattered flag. They are still making announcements like “our analysis attributes the slowdown in part to cyclical forces, including softer external demand and in part to structural bottlenecks” and are wondering why “this has happened in spite of supportive domestic macroeconomic policies, (still) favorable terms of trade, and easy financing conditions, which only began to tighten recently” but confess to being bemused by “a non-trivial portion of the slowdown remains unexplained, suggesting that other factors common to emerging markets are at play”.

Not to worry, these radical elements will soon be overwhelmed, rounded up, their iPads and Nasdaq terminals will be confiscated and they will be issued the standard entry level rations of organically grown tulsi tea, second-hand kolhapuri sandals (‘chappals‘ to the initiated) and Indian khadi kurtas.

All you ever wanted to know about excel charts but were afraid to ask. I have suggested to our IMF comrades that they rename the 'current slowdown' bubble 'the fish'n'chips crisis'.

All you ever wanted to know about excel charts but were afraid to ask. I have suggested to our IMF comrades that they rename the ‘current slowdown’ bubble ‘the fish’n’chips crisis’.

Nonetheless, I will be the first to admit that their ideologues present quite a different challenge. You can see for yourself how difficult it is going to be to dislodge some of the rebel ideologues from an IMF that has already, in rank and file, enthusiastically redefined odious growth to in fact mean none at all. This soporific video will help you judge. I couldn’t get beyond 00:07 of the footage before falling over with acute narcosis, but perhaps you are made of sterner stuff.

Likewise, one of the leading rebel subcomandantes is broadcasting a steady tattoo of counter-revolutionary propaganda. She has been recorded as saying “changing global growth constellations have exacerbated risks in emerging market economies” and that “monetary policy accommodation combined with domestic vulnerabilities in emerging market economies may lead to further market adjustment globally” and even threatening “risks of asset price overshooting or even balance of payments disruptions”.

It is only a matter of time before this resistance is overcome. Meanwhile, I would be remiss in my duties as a degrowth advocate along the inspiring lines now redrawn by IMF if I did not remind these recalcitrants that Chairman Mao had said “A revolution is not a dinner partyy” or that Muammar Gaddafi had written (the Green Book, naturally) that “Mandatory education is a coercive education that suppresses freedom. To impose specific teaching materials is a dictatorial act” and that General Vo Nguyen Giap had when confronting the enemy firmly said “Their morale is lower than the grass”.

Finally, intelligence reports just in have confirmed that the conclusion of the IMF’s revolutionary new no-growth tract, which reads “a new round of structural reforms is a must for many emerging market economies, including investment in infrastructure, to reignite potential growth” is in fact a printer’s devil.

When the 65 million who live in India’s slums are counted

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The graph illustrates the 30 largest slum populations in India, using the new Census 2011 data. The scale is logarithmic - not proportional, else showing the largest metros would reduce the smaller cities to being unreadable - so as to better display the trend of growing slum populations in urban centres whose total populations are less than a million (like Guntur and Malegaon) and up to two million (like Kota, Gwalior, Srinagar, Raipur, Jabalpur and Meerut).

The graph illustrates the 30 largest slum populations in India, using the new Census 2011 data. The scale is logarithmic – not proportional, else showing the largest metros would reduce the smaller cities to being unreadable – so as to better display the trend of growing slum populations in urban centres whose total populations are less than a million (like Guntur and Malegaon) and up to two million (like Kota, Gwalior, Srinagar, Raipur, Jabalpur and Meerut).

We have now one important basis to consider carefully the consequences of the macro-economics of GDP growth and all the programmes to encourage such ‘growth’.

In 2011, 65.49 million Indians lived in slums in our cities and towns (the number was 52 million when recorded in Census 2001). It is important not to allow the immensity of our population numbers (1,250 million now in 2013) to diminish this extraordinary and disgraceful number in any way.

The 65 million who live in slums are all together a population equivalent to the populations of Thailand or France or Britain. This is also larger than the populations of Italy or Burma, South Africa or South Korea.

In Census 2001 the total number of towns that reported slums was 1,743. In Census 2011 the total number of towns and cities that reported slums was 2,613 out of 4,041 ‘statutory’ towns and cities. Here is the guideline for classifying types of slum settlements from Census 2011:

1. All notified areas in a town or city notified as ‘slum’ by state, union territories’ administrations or local government under any act including a ‘slum act’ may be considered notified slums (22.5 million live in notified slums).
2. All areas recognised as ‘slum’ by state, union territories administration or local government, housing and slum boards, which may have not been formally notified as slum under any act may be considered as recognised slums (20.1 million live in recognised slums).
3. A compact area of at least 300 population or about 60-70 households of poorly built congested tenements, in unhygienic environment usually with inadequate infrastructure and lacking in proper sanitary and drinking water facilities. Such areas should be identified personally by the ‘charge officer’ and also inspected by an officer nominated by the Directorate of Census Operations. This fact must be duly recorded in the charge register. Such areas may be considered as identified slums (22.8 million live in identified slums).

[You can get the Primary Census Abstract for slum populations 2011 here as an xls file. There is a very informative presentation on the data available here as a pdf. Consult the primary pages on Census 2011 – India’s 2011 Census a population turning point, India’s 2011 Census the states and their prime numbers and The data vault of the 2011 Census.]

The big climate shift busy India missed

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Climatic classification at district level (1971–2005). Map: Current Science

Climatic classification at district level (1971–2005). Map: Current Science

Quietly, a group of researchers from an institute that guides new thinking in rainfed farming, has published a finding that ought to make India sit up and take notice. They set out to ask whether a twenty-year-old classification of districts according to the climatic patterns observed in them still held true. It doesn’t, and this group from the Central Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture (CRIDA) has a remedy. But the startling finding is that there is a recorded climatic shift in about 27% of the geographical area of India.

Not that Current Science, the widely-read and well-respected fortnightly journal published by the Current Science Association (with the Indian Academy of Sciences) put it that dramatically. An eighty-one-year-old journal prefers drama in theatre and not as a by-product of scientific inquiry. Nonetheless, the finding is there and it is published, in Volume 105, Number 4, the issued dated 2013 August 25.

The problem has to do with how district-level planning can best be done – I am moulding this problem a bit to fit my own well-advertised bias against the state as the unit of planning and in favour of the district as the unit. The authors of the innocuously-named paper, ‘Revisiting climatic classification in India: a district-level analysis’, have pointed out that the Planning Commission of India had emphasised the need for district-level plans and the district as the focal unit for development schemes in the Twelfth Five Year Plan.

Only partly correct, for the Commission has been advocating a district-level contribution to planning in possibly every Five Year Plan from the 1980s onwards, although in the Eleventh and Twelfth that earlier conviction has been replaced by a condescension for planning whose origin is not New Delhi, but that really is another complaint altogether.

Earlier studies had indeed brought climatic classifications to the district level, but in those cases climatic data sets used were old (not later than 1970). And that is partly why the climatic classification used by the Ministry of Rural Development when it assesses (or says it does) the eligibility of districts to qualify for the Drought Prone Area Programme and the Desert Development Programme dates back to 1994 (the DPAP and DDP that veteran block development officers are familiar with).

Estimated district-level annual rainfall in millimetres (based on grid data for 1971–2005). Map: Current Science

Estimated district-level annual rainfall in millimetres (based on grid data for 1971–2005). Map: Current Science

No wonder then that this group of researchers, steeped in studying dryish and rainfed districts, chafed at the vintage of the classification. The most important difference observed between the old studies and the CRIDA group’s study was the shift of climate from moist sub-humid/humid to dry sub-humid in Odisha (12 districts), Chhattisgarh (7 districts), Jharkhand (4 districts) and Madhya Pradesh (5 districts) “to a great extent”, as they have said.

There is also a substantial increase of arid region in Gujarat and a decrease of the same type of region in Haryana. Other salient observations include the increase in the semi-arid regions of Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh due to a shift of climate from dry sub-humid to semi-arid. Likewise, the moist sub-humid pockets in Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra have turned dry sub-humid to a larger extent.

Among various shifts observed by the group, the shift from moist sub-humid to dry sub-humid was the largest (7.23% of the country’s geographical area). About half of the moist sub-humid districts in eastern India (other than West Bengal) became dry sub-humid. A number of humid districts of Jammu and Kashmir, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh turned moist sub-humid. In Mizoram and Tripura, the shift was towards per-humid from the earlier humid climate.

India-district_moisture_index

The classification methodology.

I cannot over-emphasise the importance of this finding. In a post titled ‘Rain, districts and agriculture in India, a first calculus’ there is a map. This shows rainfed areas in India occupying 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. And the pioneering work I referred to in that posting also included CRIDA.

There is no doubt that this updated district climatic classification will be vital for all those working at the district level, whether for agricultural planning, for assessment of water demand, preparing measures during times of drought, or determining whether the DPAP and DDP of yesteryear and the RKVY and NFSM of today need recalibrating.

Once again led by first class work at CRIDA, the district as the default administrative unit for development, assessment, planning and enumerating becomes the norm we still fail to adopt. To the 11 of the CRIDA group who really must take a bow for this work, I can only say: well done, for the revolution is at hand.