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Archive for October 2014

The FAO mask slips further

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Family farming is a descriptive phrase that rings well with environmentalists, with anthropologists and ethnologists who have had anything to do with food and its cultivation, with naturalists and especially with the many groups promoting agro-ecological farming all over the world. What could be wrong with recognising and valorising family farming?

The FAO's view of smallholder farming, agri-business and markets, rendered in textbook business school fashion.

The FAO’s view of smallholder farming, agri-business and markets, rendered in textbook business school fashion.

Quite a lot, when it comes through the machinery of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s propaganda mill. The most cited of the FAO’s ‘flagship’ publications, the State of Food and Agriculture in 2014 has as its theme family farming, but this theme carries a passenger, which the FAO has described as ‘Innovation in family farming’. And that is how the mask has slipped further.

[The State of Food and Agriculture, FAO’s major annual flagship publication has as its 2014 theme ‘Innovation in family farming’ (the full report here and a summary here).]

The publication needs to be read not for the assertions of how important smallholder farming is, but for the conceptual machinery that has been assembled so that a technical take-over of small farms can be achieved with limited opposition. This is the scheme of the FAO of 2014, which is sadly a very different agency from what it was even a decade ago.

SOFA 2014 in its prose swings rather schizophrenically between sugary pronouncements about how family farms are “the custodians of about 75 percent of all agricultural resources in the world”, and therefore why they should be the new focus for an innovation that is techno-centric. The publication has made liberal use of terms such as “improved ecological and resource sustainability” and where the word ‘sustainable’ is used ‘vulnerable’ is surely not far behind. It isn’t, and SOFA 2014 goes to some lengths to convince its readers that most family farms are vulnerable in one or many ways.

The spin doctors employed by the FAO have come up with what the publication has called a triple challenge for family farming (challenges are most intimidating when they come in threes). This is: “yield growth to meet the world’s need for food security and better nutrition; environmental sustainability to protect the planet and to secure their own productive capacity; and productivity growth and livelihood diversification to lift themselves out of poverty and hunger”. The answer, according to the machine men of international crop science, is that they must innovate (or, better still, nominally hold the title to the factors of crop production while the innovation is administered by outside agents).

FAO_SOFA_2014_coverThis very brief canning of the publication’s main objective helps to place in context the main messages of this year’s State of Food and Agriculture, which include:

“Family farms are part of the solution for achieving food security and sustainable rural development; the world’s food security and environmental sustainability depend on the more than 500 million family farms that form the backbone of agriculture in most countries.”

Here the device of a very large number, 500 million, is used to reassure the critics that the forces that would control the world’s crop staples are unlikely to homogenise such a number. But indeed it is their number and variety that are being studied carefully in order to find approaches that – to use the acidic terms of the multi-lateral banks – boost investor confidence. Hence the considered advice from FAO: “Family farms are an extremely diverse group, and innovation systems must take this diversity into account.”

There is more on complexity and diversity with specific regard to the institutions for crop science (and for food retail and sales, the porcine twin of formal modern agriculture research). The SOFA has said: “The challenges facing agriculture and the institutional environment for agricultural innovation are far more complex than ever before; the world must create an innovation system that embraces this complexity.” What the FAO means by “more complex than ever before” is the growing opposition to industrial agriculture, agricultural biotechnology and the use of genetic modification techniques. So, the embracing that is called for is one that should sound acceptable, non-threatening, inclusive, participatory and all the other terms that the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal-setters so volubly use.

FAO_SOFA_2014_cover_bwInstitutions cost money, which will come from where exactly? The FAO has a ready answer. “Public investment in agricultural R&D and extension and advisory services should be increased and refocused to emphasise sustainable intensification and closing yield and labour productivity gaps.” That is to say, leave the innovation bit to the private sector, turn your research centres (built and run with public monies) over to us, dismantle your nationalist agricultural extension service but give us the network, and look how we close yield and productivity gaps. That’s the pitch, in a nutshell, ignoring the several blunt cautions raised by other UN agencies (including the previous Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food) that we have quite enough food but far too little equity and fairness concerning how it reaches those who need it.

This publication, the State of Food and Agriculture, is the latest that has been outfitted to serve FAO’s new interest, camouflaged though it is. The usual empowering wordiness that has become so tiresomely characteristic of the UN system is on view here too: family farmers need an enabling environment, good governance, stable macroeconomic conditions, transparent legal and regulatory regimes, secure property rights, risk management tools, market infrastructure, capacity development through investment in education and training, participatory agricultural research, emphasise sustainable intensification, closing the yield and productivity gaps.

Until the next major report, this one will be turned into a mini-curriculum to be referenced by client governments so that a technologically obsessed industrial agriculture and seed industry annexes larger shares of old markets (India and South-East Asia) and totally subordinates small new ones (African countries). ‘Fiat panis’ (let there be bread) is the FAO motto and after a reading of SOFA 2014 one could be excused for considering that this motto be switched with ‘fiat food oligarchs’, for that is the direction the FAO, under Jose Graziano da Silva, is firmly pursuing.

Preparing for cyclone Hudhud

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Insat-3D’s view of the path inland of Hudhud at 1730 IST (5:30pm IST) on 12 October. The cyclonic storm is now moving north-northwest through Odisha into Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and south Bihar. Image: IMD

Insat-3D’s view of the path inland of Hudhud at 1730 IST (5:30pm IST) on 12 October. The cyclonic storm is now moving north-northwest through Odisha into Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and south Bihar. Image: IMD

12 Oct – The IMD has issued its evening alert on cyclone Hudhud. The 1700 IST (5:00pm IST) alert contains a heavy rainfall warning and a wind warning.

Heavy rainfall warning: Rainfall at most places with heavy (6.5-12.4 cm) to very heavy falls (12.5-24.4 cm) at a few places and isolated extremely heavy falls (>24.5 cm) would occur over West and East Godavari, Visakhapatnam, Vijayanagaram and Srikakulam districts of north Andhra Pradesh and Ganjam, Gajapati, Koraput, Rayagada, Nabarangpur, Malkangiri, Kalahandi, Phulbani districts of south Odisha during next 24 hrs. Rainfall would occur at most places with heavy to very heavy rainfall at isolated places over Krishna, Guntur and Prakasham districts of Andhra Pradesh and north Odisha during the same period. Rainfall at most places with heavy falls at a few places would occur over south Chattisgarh, adjoining Telangana and isolated heavy to very heavy falls over north Chattisgarh, east Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and Bihar.

Cyclone Hudhud will degrade into a severe cyclonic storm, then a cyclonic storm and by 13 October morning into a deep depression. Until 14 October it will continue to pose a danger with heavy rainfall and high winds. This IMD table explains why.

Cyclone Hudhud will degrade into a severe cyclonic storm, then a cyclonic storm and by 13 October morning into a deep depression. Until 14 October it will continue to pose a danger with heavy rainfall and high winds. This IMD table explains why.

Press Information Bureau distributes very useful railway helpline numbers.

Press Information Bureau distributes very useful railway helpline numbers.

Wind warning: Current gale wind speed reaching 130-140 kmph gusting to 150 kmph would decrease gradually to 100-110 kmph gusting to 120 kmph during next 3 hours and to 80-90 kmph during subsequent 6 hours over East Godavari, Visakhapatnam, Vizianagaram and Srikakulam districts of North Andhra Pradesh. Wind speed of 80-90 kmph gusting to 100 kmph would prevail over Koraput, Malkangiri, Nabarangpur and Rayagada districts during next 6 hrs and 50 to 60 kmph during subsequent 12 hrs. Squally wind speed reaching upto 55-65 kmph gusting to 75 kmph would also prevail along and off West Godavari and Krishna districts of Andhra Pradesh, Ganjam and Gajapati districts of Odisha, south Chattisgarh and adjoining districts of north Telangana during next 12 hours.

 

Andhra Pradesh helpline numbers here. (Thanks to Ankur Singh ‏@ankurzzzz)

Andhra Pradesh helpline numbers here. (Thanks to Ankur Singh ‏@ankurzzzz)

Odisha district control room phone numbers have been distributed thanks to eodisha.org.

They 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 26267, Bhadrak 06784 251881.

There are reports on twitter that the leading edge of cyclone Hudhud crossed the coast at around 1030 IST (0500 UTC). The reported maximum wind speed is just above 200 kmph which means the destructive force threatens structures too.

This tweet means that western ‘wall’ of the cyclone has crossed. It took just under two hours. The eastern ‘wall’ crossing of the coast, accompanied by severely high winds and very heavy rain, is under way now.

Navy officials warn that there will be a lull in the storm at around 11.30 am, but the storm will again intensify after that for a few hours.
Zee News has a list of cancelled and curtailed trains.
At least 400,000 people have been evacuated from the coastal areas of Andhra Pradesh and Odisha states as authorities aimed for zero casualties.

Insat-3D's view of Hudhud at 2:30pm on 11 October. The leading edge of the 'eye' of the cyclone is about 150 kilometres off Srikakulam in Andhra Pradesh.

Insat-3D’s view of Hudhud at 2:30pm on 11 October. The leading edge of the ‘eye’ of the cyclone is about 150 kilometres off Srikakulam in Andhra Pradesh.

11 Oct – Where is Cyclone Hudhud and how fast is it moving towards land? The India Meteorological Department has said in its most recent alert – 1430/2:30pm on 11 October – that “the Very Severe Cyclonic Storm” is now about 260 kilometres south-east of Visakhapatnam and 350 km south-south-east of Gopalpur. IMD expects the cyclone to travel north-west and cross the coast of north Andhra Pradesh, near Visakhapatnam, by mid-morning on 12 October 2014.

Around 100,000 people have been evacuated in Andhra Pradesh to high-rise buildings, shelters and relief centres, with plans to move a total of 300,000 to safety. Authorities in Odisha said they were monitoring the situation and would, if necessary, move 300,000 people most at risk.

The evacuation effort was comparable in scale to the one that preceded Cyclone Phailin exactly a year ago, and which was credited with minimising the fatalities to 53. When a huge storm hit the same area 15 years ago, 10,000 people died.

The projected path of the cyclone and its outer rainbands, which in the case of Hudhud are around 80 km thick measured from the eye. Image: GDACS

The projected path of the cyclone and its outer rainbands, which in the case of Hudhud are around 80 km thick measured from the eye. Image: GDACS

Authorities have been stocking cyclone shelters with dry rations, water purification tablets and generators. They have opened up 24-hour emergency control rooms and dispatched satellite phones to officials in charge of vulnerable districts.

The AP government has cancelled leaves of employees and has asked everyone to remain on duty on the weekend.  In Vizag, where the cyclone is expected to make landfall, the administration has opened 175 shelters and moved close to 40,000 people from the coastal villages. In Srikakulam, people of 250 villages in 11 mandals which may be affected have been evacuated.

IMD's table of wind speeds at the surface (sea level) brought by Hudhud. Note the exceptionally strong winds between 2330/11:30pm on 11 October and 1130/11:30am on 12 October.

IMD’s table of wind speeds at the surface (sea level) brought by Hudhud. Note the exceptionally strong winds between 2330/11:30pm on 11 October and 1130/11:30am on 12 October.

While human casualties are not expected due to the massive evacuation, power and telecommunication lines will be uprooted leading to widespread disruption. A warning has been issued that flooding and uprooted trees will cut off escape routes, national and state highways and traffic is being regulated to ensure that no one is caught in the flash floods caused by heavy rains.

Vishakhapatnam, Bhimunipatnam, Chittivalasa and Konada are expected to face storm surges of over 1 metre. Source: GDACS

Vishakhapatnam, Bhimunipatnam, Chittivalasa and Konada are expected to face storm surges of over 1 metre. Source: GDACS

Officials said that National Disaster Response Force teams have been strategically placed along the coast to be deployed wherever they are required. Railways has cancelled all trains passing through the three districts which are likely to be affected.

The IMD has issued a “Heavy Rainfall Warning” which has said that driven by the cyclonic winds, rainfall at most places along the AP and Odisha coast will be heavy (6.5–12.4cm) to very heavy (12.5–24.4 cm). These places include West and East Godavari, Visakhapatnam, Vijayanagaram and Srikakulam districts of north Andhra Pradesh and Ganjam, Gajapati, Koraput, Rayagada, Nabarangpur, Malkangiri, Kalahandi, Phulbani districts of south Odisha.

10 OctThe India Meteorological Department said on the evening of 10 October that the “Very Severe Cyclonic Storm” is centered near latitude 15.0ºN and longitude 86.8ºE about 470 km east-southeast of Visakhapatnam and 520 km south-southeast of Gopalpur. This was the fix IMD had on the centre of the cyclone at 1430 IST on 10 October 2014.

Here are the salient points from news reports released during the afternoon of 10 October:

Cyclone Hudhud will cross the north Andhra Pradesh coast on October 12 and is expected to make landfall close to Visakhapatnam, according to the Cyclone Warning Centre (CWC) at Visakhapatnam. “It is forecast that Hudhud, which is already a severe cyclonic storm, will intensify into a very severe cyclonic storm in next 12 hours. Hudhud is likely to make landfall on October 12 close to Visakhapatnam,” said IMD’s Hyderabad centre.

This panel of four images shows the wind patterns of the cyclone at different altitudes. Top left is at 1,000 millibars (mb) of atmospheric pressure which is around sea level, top right is at 850 mb which is at around 1,500 metres high, bottom left is at 700 mb which is at around 3,500 metres, and bottom right is at 500 mb which is at around 5,000 metres. The direction of the greenish lines shows the winds rushing into the cyclonic centre. The visualisations have been collected from the 'earth.nullschool.net', which visually processes global weather conditions forecast by supercomputers and updated every three hours.

This panel of four images shows the wind patterns of the cyclone at different altitudes. Top left is at 1,000 millibars (mb) of atmospheric pressure which is around sea level, top right is at 850 mb which is at around 1,500 metres high, bottom left is at 700 mb which is at around 3,500 metres, and bottom right is at 500 mb which is at around 5,000 metres. The direction of the greenish lines shows the winds rushing into the cyclonic centre. The visualisations have been collected from the ‘earth.nullschool.net’, which visually processes global weather conditions forecast by supercomputers and updated every three hours.

Cyclone Hudhud has moved closer to the coast of Odisha and eight districts of the state are likely to be affected by it. The districts likely to be affected by the cyclone are Ganjam, Gajapati, Rayagada, Koraput, Malkangiri, Nabarangpur, Kalahandi and Kandhamal. All these districts have been provided with satellite phones for emergency and constant vigil was being maintained on the rivers like Bansadhara, Rusikulya and Nagabali as heavy rain is expected in southern districts.

The path over the Bay and after landfall as forecast by the IMD's Regional Specialised Meteorological Centre (RSMC). Note that within the large circle of heavy rainfall expected inland are the cities of Nagpur, Nanded, Amravati, Bhilai, Raipur and Karimnagar.

The path over the Bay and after landfall as forecast by the IMD’s Regional Specialised Meteorological Centre (RSMC). Note that within the large circle of heavy rainfall expected inland are the cities of Nagpur, Nanded, Amravati, Bhilai, Raipur and Karimnagar.

With cyclone Hudhud fast approaching the states of Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh today spoke to the chief ministers of the three states on the steps being taken to deal with the situation. Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik sought satellite phones which could be used in case high-speed winds disturbed the telecommunication system.

According to the India Meteorological Department, the wind speeds of cyclone Hudhud will be less than what the east coast experienced during Phailin in October 2013. The wind speed during cyclone Phailin was nearly 210 kmph, which made the cyclone the second-strongest ever to hit India’s coastal region. The country had witnessed its severest cyclone in Odisha in 1999.

Frequent updates and advisories can also be found at GDACS – the Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System (a cooperation framework under the UN umbrella). GDACS provides real-time access to web-based disaster information systems and related coordination tools.

Cities that will directly be affected by cyclone Hudhud are Vishakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh, Jagdalpur in Chhattisgarh, Vizianagaram in AP, Bhogapuram in AP, and Anakapalle in AP.

The sweeping of Bharat

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RG_Modi_jhadoo_6_smIt is as customary in politics as it is in administration to expect a new dispensation to sweep clean the debris and dust of the old order. It is just as customary to fix such sweeping with a suspicious eye and mutter that new brooms after all must sweep, for such is their calling.

Yet what we now see in India appears to be no ordinary broom and no ordinary sweeping. There is a movement afoot to clean the country and its chief cleaner and founder had this to say on 2 October (the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi): “Does the job of getting rid of filth belongs to municipal cleaners only? Isn’t it the duty of all the 1.25 billion Indians? We have to change this situation. All of us are responsible for no longer keeping our country like this.”

RG_Modi_jhadoo_7_smThe exhortation was delivered by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has set a benchmark for plain speaking in his government. The tone was set and early adopters proved to be, not the average Indian weary of garbage in her neighbourhood, but practically every government department.

Against a background of apathy by government departments that has been painfully familiar for two decades and more, this is unusual but not surprising. The new Bharatiya Janata Party government has impressed upon bureaucrats and government servants that they too are responsible citizens first, which is why every day after 2 October, one ministry after another has advertised its eagerness to sweep India clean through press releases, posed photographs and stilted promises.

The campaign, called ‘Swachh Bharat’, or clean India, has at best left ordinary citizens both bemused and amused. To set the ball rolling, Modi invited nine well-known citizens to begin a high-profile sweeping. Amongst them is Sachin Tendulkar, the cricketer, who quickly sent for a bunch of the typically ordinary brooms that Indian households use, rounded up some of his friends, and set to work in his Mumbai neighbourhood with at least as much technique as he once used to score runs on the cricket pitch.

RG_Modi_jhadoo_8_smBut the clean India campaign is also proving to have reached places that no such campaign before it has. The governor of the Reserve Bank of India, who ordinarily ponders monetary policy and interest rate adjustments, is reported to have turned his attention to how new toilets in rural India can be financed. Moreover, India’s University Grants Commission, the apex body that coordinates higher education in the country, has instructed all the universities to ensure clean and green campuses.

Preferring the questionnaire to the broom, Delhi University has decided to sociologically study the impact of Modi’s campaign (will Delhi’s residents actually stop littering, they have asked). The Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (whose job it is to monitor the gigantic Indian economy) has been asked to “develop an appropriate statistical framework” so that the government can judge whether the campaign is working and how it may be adjusted. And the first smartphone application has been released with which litter-averse Indians can tag unclean places in their city wards, upload pictures to a dedicated portal, and perhaps wait for a municipal cleaner to turn up, armed with a now very familiar broom.